Vancouver police did not have a specific program to investigate sexual predators identified by street prostitutes in 2001, around the time when serial killer Robert Pickton was preying on women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the missing women inquiry has heard.
In opening testimony during the second week of the high-profile inquiry, John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, said on Monday he was not aware of any Vancouver police program to check out those identified on “bad-date” sheets that community groups had compiled using reports from street prostitutes.
About 20 per cent of the names on the list were repeat offenders, the inquiry heard. The same names, the same licence plates, the same descriptions kept coming up.
Prostitutes did not report the incidents to police, in part because they felt police could not be trusted. Some of the women said in a 2001 survey that officers sometimes threatened or attempted to sexually assault prostitutes. Mr. Lowman told the inquiry he recalled two officers who were charged around that time with an offence against a prostitute.
Street sex workers who felt they were victimized by police would be “disinclined” to report any victimization to that same police department, lawyer Jason Gratl, who was appointed by the commission of inquiry to represent the views of Downtown Eastside groups, said later outside the inquiry.
However, Vancouver police had access to the bad-date sheets.
“To not systematically review and investigate the information delivered on a regular basis by sex workers, setting out extreme levels of violence, high numbers of predator interactions, is unbelievable,” Mr. Gratl said.
Earlier on Monday, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter distributed a newsletter called Sister Outsiders outside the inquiry. In the newsletter, Lee Lakeman of the women’s shelter criticized Mr. Lowman for testifying last week that Mr. Pickton was not a typical “john” because he planned to harm the women he picked up. Mr. Lowman appeared to be assuming that an ordinary john does not intend to harm women, she indicated.
Ms. Lakeman said this sends the message that society has nothing to fear from ordinary johns who pick up prostitutes.
“For [Mr.]Lowman to say that Pickton was just ‘pretending to be a john’ in order to do whatever he wanted with prostitutes, up to and including murder, is like saying that a wife killer was just pretending to be a husband in order to get away with the abuse of his wife,” Ms. Lakeman wrote in the newsletter.
Ms. Lakeman also attacked the inquiry over the roles taken by men in the process. “The men will be the experts in the telling and analyzing of sexist violence,” she wrote. They will have “rough and tumble disagreements” with each other “but all nicely within the existing patriarchal frame: their count, their expertise, their inquiry and their truth,” she wrote. Many of the women’s stories will not fit in, she wrote.
Several women’s, community and aboriginal groups have decided to boycott the inquiry because the B.C. government refused to pick up their legal bills. In their absence, the commission has appointed lawyers to represent them.
Meanwhile, outside the hearing, the intersection of Georgia and Granville Streets was closed for several hours as more than 100 people gathered in a “sacred circle” for drumming, burning sweet grass and to hear tributes to the missing and murdered women. The vigil drew dozens of people from the Occupy Vancouver encampment one block away.
Former attorney general Wally Oppal was appointed in October, 2010, to look into why Mr. Pickton was not arrested earlier. Mr. Pickton preyed on women from the Downtown Eastside for several years before his arrest in February, 2002. He was convicted in 2007 of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women, and has said he killed 49 women.