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Proposal to widen missing women's inquiry backed

Former Attorney General Wally Oppal (left) heads B.C.
Former Attorney General Wally Oppal (left) heads B.C.'s Missing Women Inquiry. Ernie Crey (right) is the brother of one of the Vancouver missing women whose DNA was found at the Pickton farm.
— image credit: File

Missing Women Commissioner Wally Oppal wants to expand his inquiry, allowing a broader look at how serial killer Robert Pickton was allowed to prey on vulnerable women.

The commission is currently framed as a hearing commission but Oppal has recommended the provincial government reshape it to also include a study commission.

That would allow it to tour the province and hear from more witnesses, particularly First Nations, in a less-adversarial setting than formal court-style hearings where those testifying face cross-examination.

Oppal said the change would make the inquiry more inclusive and allow its recommendations to be shaped by more public input.

Ernie Crey, brother of one of the missing women, supports the proposed change.

He said it would allow a hard look at government policies and civic zoning that concentrated drug-addicted vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a regular hunting ground for Pickton.

His sister Dawn, whose DNA was found at the Pickton farm, frequented the Downtown Eastside rather than Kerrisdale or Kitsilano, Crey said, because that's where services like soup kitchens, clothing depots and low-rent housing are found.

Crey blames a "web of policies" by federal, provincial and civic governments, along with "NIMBYs do not want social services in some parts of Vancouver that would attract impoverished people, mentally ill people or the drug-dependent."

Without a study component, Crey predicted the inquiry will largely ignore the social side and turn mainly into a legalistic battle between testifying police representatives and lawyers interrogating them.

Oppal's appointment last fall to head the inquiry was criticized by some groups as a poor choice.

Crey said the naming of a companion study commission would allow the province to now name an aboriginal woman with a background in law to head it.

"There's no shortage of qualified aboriginal people, particularly women, who could fill that role," he said.

The recommendation from Oppal came after he heard demands for a separate inquiry from family members of women who went missing from northern B.C. communities, along what has been dubbed the Highway of Tears.

The province hasn't given any immediate response.

Attorney General Barry Penner said he will bring the proposal to cabinet, but questioned whether it might lengthen the inquiry and delay its findings.

Oppal is currently supposed to report back by Dec. 31.

The inquiry is to focus on what happened in the five years between 1997 – when a woman escaped from the Port Coquitlam farm after nearly dying in a bloody knife fight with Pickton – and 2002 when he was ultimately charged with murder after several more women were killed.

The earlier investigation of the 1997 assault, the 1998 decision to drop charges in that case and the delay in eventually arresting Pickton again are all part of Oppal's terms of reference.

Recommendations are to include how police should investigate cases of missing women and suspected serial killings, including the coordination of investigations when multiple police forces are involved.

Pickton was convicted of killing six missing women but had been linked by DNA to dozens more. He claimed to an undercover officer he killed 49 women.

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Getting to the needle point

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