(Editor’s Note: The final report submitted by commissioner Wally Oppal is 1,448 pages long and can be downloaded from this page on the commission website. But this excerpt from the executive summary is a good entry point into the commission’s work.)
Most of us will never have to worry about where we will get our next meal, what we will do to get the money we need to live or where we will sleep.
We don’t understand what it feels like to be consumed by fears about our physical safety and yet afraid to contact the police. On your own, easily forsaken.
Forsaken. That is the story of the missing and murdered women.
The missing and murdered women were forsaken by society at large and then again by the police. The pattern of predatory violence was clear and should have been met with a swift and severe response by accountable and professional institutions, but it was not. To paraphrase Maggie de Vries, sister of murder victim Sarah de Vries, there should have been mayhem, searches, media interest and rewards; but these responses only trickled in over the course of many years.
In September 2010, the Lieutenant Governor in Council issued an Order in Council establishing the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. I was appointed as the Commissioner.
The Commission had a fourfold mandate:
a) to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the investigations conducted between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, by police forces in British Columbia respecting women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside of the City of Vancouver;
b) to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement, and aggravated assault;
c) to recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides; and
d) to recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in British Columbia by more than one investigating organization, including the co-ordination of those investigations.
The story of the missing and murdered women is a tragedy of epic proportions. It is simply unfathomable that these women were forsaken year after year. And yet they were. While this report focuses on police failures to investigate their disappearance, none of us can escape responsibility for what happened to the missing and murdered women. It is my hope and conviction that this report will contribute to a lasting legacy of increased safety and the saving of lives.
– Wally Oppal, Commissioner, from the executive summary of Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry