Lillian Beaudoin has spent much of the past six months sitting in a Vancouver courtroom waiting for answers about why the police failed to stop serial killer Robert Pickton before he murdered her sister, Dianne Rock.
But she worries those answers are being drowned out by persistent controversies that have plagued the hearings, most recently anonymous allegations of sexual harassment against unnamed staff members at the commission.
“This inquiry was to find out what happened to the missing women, how they can improve anything for the missing girls, what the police did wrong,” Ms. Beaudoin said in an interview outside the hearings Thursday.
“We have very little time remaining, and a lot of witnesses to go through. To add more stories like this, to me it feels like a diversion away from what this whole inquiry is all about.”
The latest controversy has its roots in a report in the National Post on Wednesday that former commission employees say staff in the commission's office made derogatory comments about other employees and sex workers. The allegations were based on anonymous sources and didn’t specify who was being accused.
The newspaper reported on Thursday that an anonymous source complained that executive director John Boddie was too involved in preparing witnesses for testimony.
Two lawyers have been hired to get to the bottom of the allegations, and Mr. Boddie has gone on leave, though no one has explained why.
Ms. Beaudoin agreed the allegations of sexual harassment should be taken seriously, but she said they've distracted the inquiry and the public away from how the system failed vulnerable women like her sister, who disappeared in 2001 and whose DNA was found on Mr. Pickton’s farm.
“We are here to figure out what the police did wrong and why our families were murdered, why Pickton was able to continue on committing all these murders right under the nose of the police officers,” Ms. Beaudoin said.
“That’s our main focus of why we’re here, and I wish everything would get back into focus onto that. We’re determined to get our answers, because I didn’t give up my life coming here to be putting up with this.”
Commissioner Wally Oppal issued a written statement Thursday morning – his second in two days – saying it was difficult to respond to anonymous and vague accusations.
“I have often said that we welcome criticism and feedback and that we strive to learn from what has been done. I believe we should be held to the highest standard. I am disappointed that the people that felt strongly enough to go to the media with their concerns are not willing to identify themselves,” he wrote.
“Responding to criticisms from anonymous sources is challenging because specifics are not provided and there is little to no context surrounding the limited information put forward in these serious allegations.”
A day earlier, Mr. Oppal announced the appointment of lawyer Delayne Sartison to investigate the sexual harassment allegations. On Thursday, he announced that lawyer Peter Gall has been assigned to advise the commission on the investigation.
Mr. Gall described his role as a bridge between Ms. Sartison and the commission.
“There have been various allegations reported in the press about staff-related issues, and the commission thought it was advisable to get some assistance in the handling of those issues,” Mr. Gall said in an interview.
“The existing commission staff has a full-time job in conducting the inquiry, and secondly just to give some separation and independence to the review of these issues.”
Mr. Gall confirmed that Mr. Boddie went on leave on Monday, but he declined to explain why. The commission referred questions about Mr. Boddie to Mr. Gall.
Mr. Boddie, whose name has been removed from the commission website, did not return telephone and e-mail requests for an interview.
He was a member of the Vancouver Police Department for 16 years until he left the force as a sergeant in 1988. His most recent work was as a consultant for the security industry.
The inquiry is examining why Vancouver police and the RCMP failed to catch Mr. Pickton in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and its work has been overshadowed by controversy since it was announced a year and a half ago.
Critics have raised concerns about the province's decision to appoint Mr. Oppal, a former judge, who was attorney-general in the provincial Liberal government during Mr. Pickton's trial.
They've also argued the inquiry's terms of reference are too narrow, because they focus exclusively on the actions of police and prosecutors rather than the social problems that led Mr. Pickton's victims – impoverished, drug-addicted women, including many aboriginals – into sex work in the first place.
Last year, a number of participant groups, including aboriginal organizations and sex worker advocates, withdrew after the provincial government refused to provide them with legal funding.
Independent lawyer Robyn Gervais, who was appointed by Mr. Oppal to represent the interests of aboriginal people, resigned last month. She told Mr. Oppal the inquiry had become too focused on the police and not on the native women who were among Mr. Pickton’s victims. She did not raise any concerns about her working conditions.
Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002, when RCMP officers executing an unrelated warrant for illegal firearms stumbled upon the belongings and remains of missing women.
He had been the top suspect in the disappearance of sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for years.
Mr. Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm, though he once bragged to an undercover police officer that he murdered 49 women.