The two police forces that failed to catch Robert Pickton as the serial killer hunted sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say they acted reasonably when they received information that women were vanishing and that Pickton might have been responsible.
The Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP each filed statements of defence Monday in a series of lawsuits involving the children of nine missing women, who accuse both forces of inadequately investigating reports of missing sex workers in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The case was the focus of a high-profile public inquiry last year that identified a long list of failures and concluded that, had the victims not been poor, drug-addicted sex workers, the police would have done more to investigate what happened to them.
Both forces have issued public apologies acknowledging they could have done more to catch Mr. Pickton sooner. The Vancouver police has repeated that apology numerous times in the past several years, while the RCMP offered its apology during the public inquiry.
But in separate statements of defence, each force denies responsibility and argues they should not be held liable for the deaths of women who ended up on Mr. Pickton’s farm.
“At all material times, the Vancouver police made reasonable efforts to locate and investigate the disappearances of women upon receipt of information or reports,” the City of Vancouver, on behalf of its police force, says in one of its statements of defence.
The RCMP’s statements of defence offers a similar argument: “The defendant says that the actions of those (RCMP officers) were at all times taken in good faith, were reasonable and were not negligent, particularly given the information available and the circumstances prevailing at the time of those investigations.”
The Vancouver Police Department also says in its statements of defence that there is no evidence any of the women disappeared from Vancouver. The force has long insisted no crime occurred in Vancouver, because the women were believed to have willingly left the city with Mr. Pickton only to be killed on his farm in Port Coquitlam, which is in the RCMP’s jurisdiction.
There were three separate investigations linked to Vancouver’s missing women.
The Vancouver police investigated reports of missing Downtown Eastside sex workers, while the RCMP examined Mr. Pickton as a potential suspect. In 2001, both forces formed a joint task force to review missing-person cases involving sex workers.
Mr. Pickton emerged as a suspect as early as 1998, when the Vancouver police received tips implicating him, but he wasn’t caught until February, 2002.
Commissioner Wally Oppal’s final report from the public inquiry, released last December, identified a list of “critical failures” in the various police investigations. Those included poor report taking, a failure to take pro-active steps to protect sex workers, a failure to pursue all investigative strategies, and poor co-ordination between Vancouver police and RCMP, among others.
At the inquiry, the forces urged the commissioner not to judge their actions with the benefit of hindsight, insisting officers did the best they could with the information they had at the time.
The Vancouver police and the RCMP also spent considerable time at the inquiry blaming each other. Vancouver police accused the Mounties of botching their investigation into Mr. Pickton, while the RCMP said the Vancouver police weren’t passing along information and resisted forming a joint investigation.
The Vancouver department released its own internal review in 2010, which identified a number of problems with how the force’s management handled the case while also laying considerable blame at the feet of the RCMP.
The City of Vancouver’s statement of defence says the force will rely on that report as its version of what happened.
The families’ lawsuits also allege Crown prosecutors were negligent when they declined to put Mr. Pickton on trial for attempted murder after an attack on a sex worker in 1997.
Mr. Pickton was set to stand trial in early 1998, but prosecutors dropped the case days before trial over concerns about the victim’s ability to testify.
The B.C. government has filed court documents arguing prosecutors are immune from being sued.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Mr. Pickton’s farm. He was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and is currently serving a life sentence.
Mr. Pickton is also named in the families’ lawsuits, as is his brother, David. Neither has filed a statement of defence.