Canada
Police bias, apathy failed missing downtown Vancouver women: Inquiry

Women sing during a protest outside the Missing Women's Inquiry in Vancouver, June 6, 2012.

Credits: REUTERS/Andy Clark

QMI AGENCY

VANCOUVER -- If the missing women had been from Vancouver’s posh west side instead of sex-trade workers from the city’s beleaguered Downtown Eastside, the police investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton would likely have wrapped up a lot sooner.

In his long-awaited Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report released Monday, Wally Oppal found the killer pig farmer’s victims were “forsaken twice” — once by society at large and again by police.

Oppal’s 1,448-page report, entitled Forsaken, which was highly critical of police forces, stated that police bias and failures mirrored “the general public and political indifference to the missing women.”

“I had to ask myself one question: ‘Would the reaction of the police and the public been any different if the missing women had come from Vancouver’s west side?’” Oppal said during a high-voltage press conference following his report’s release.

“The answer is obvious. That’s why I’ve concluded that there was systemic bias in the police investigations."

While he deemed the bias was “not intentional,” he said the system failed because of the bias.

“These women were ... treated as throwaways,” he said.

In his 63 recommendations to the B.C. government, Oppal called for a single police force for Metro Vancouver. He cited discord and power struggles between Vancouver police and RCMP as one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the investigation.

The press event was chaotic and emotional.

Some friends and families of Pickton’s victims harassed Oppal, banging on drums and chanting, hooting and hissing, though others tried to hush the hecklers. The crowd did cheer after Oppal declared it was time to stop talking and instead “do something” about violence against women.

“Shame, Shame,” some shouted toward the end.

The legitimacy of the three-month inquiry — set up to examine why police took so long to catch Pickton while dozens of sex-trade workers vanished from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002 — was questioned from the start.

The commission was labelled a sham by victims’ families and advocacy groups, who accused it of shutting out the very women the inquiry was purportedly about.

The inquiry heard testimony from more than 80 witnesses, including some investigators who complained of being dismissed by superiors unwilling to consider the possibility a serial killer was on the loose.

Meanwhile, family members recounted being ignored by authorities when they tried filing missing persons reports.

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