Miscommunication, lack of co-ordination and rivalry between police forces all hindered the investigation into the disappearance of dozens of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, according to a public inquiry report that has renewed calls for a regional police force in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.
The call by inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal – who on Monday released “Forsaken,” his 1,448-page report on the flawed police investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton – is perhaps the strongest in the three decades the idea has been floated.
“Without a doubt, one of the critical police failures in the missing-women investigations was the failure to address cross-jurisdictional issues and the ineffective co-ordination between police forces and agencies,” stated the report, which cited as examples file-sharing problems, competing priorities and communication issues between the B.C. RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department.
The report quoted retired Chief Constable Bob Stewart, who said there is often confusion over who has authority in multijurisdictional cases: “I believe this was a significant factor and was more than evident with the Pickton investigation. Jurisdiction played one of the most significant factors in how this entire case was managed. While there was ample evidence of co-operation and communication between various police agencies, breakdowns began when the case became formidable.”
Observed Mr. Oppal: “While there was much co-operation between the officers of both forces, there also appears to be considerable rivalry between the VPD and the RCMP as institutions; with each being critical of the other’s actions and steps taken.”
Mr. Oppal, who raised the possibility of regionalization in a 1994 report on policing, stressed the importance of taking swift action: “I do not recommend yet another study on the feasibility of regional planning,” he said. “A decisive step must be taken to break this impasse. I recommend that provincial government commit to establishing a Greater Vancouver police force through a consultative process with all stakeholders.”
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond acknowledged the province recently signed a 20-year contract with the RCMP but noted “there’s an opt-out clause should there be a decision to move to another model. The commissioner recommended that we consult with the Lower Mainland region to talk about what that model will look like and we’re committed to doing that.”
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, would not take questions on Monday, citing a need to first thoroughly review the report, but said the force will work closely with the ministry and “look critically at how we deliver policing services.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement he has supported regionalization in the past and hopes the province will “quickly commit” to bringing it to fruition.