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Key witness unsure if he'll attend missing-women probe

An exhibit from the Pickton trial, a poster board of 48 missing women shown to Pickton during the 11 hours interview on day after he was arrested.

John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

A former Vancouver police officer who was expected to be a key witness at the Missing Women Inquiry says he may not show up if the B.C. government continues to refuse to pay his legal bills.

Kim Rossmo was one of the first police officers to say that a serial killer was preying on women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Senior Vancouver officers dismissed what he said and serial killer Robert Pickton continued to pick up and murder women for several more years.

Mr. Rossmo, who is now recognized as a leading specialist in geographic profiling, was expected to testify at the Missing Women Inquiry about how police responded to reports of the murdered and missing women in the years before Mr. Pickton was arrested.

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But on Wednesday, Mr. Rossmo said he is thinking of staying in Texas, where he now works.

"I have more to offer them than they have to offer me," said Mr. Rossmo, a research professor at the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation at Texas State University in San Marcos.

"I don't have a horse in the race any more, like the various interest groups there," he said in an interview. "My role is just to provide the facts. I'm more than willing to do that, but I am dismayed by events of the last year. I do not know what to think any more."

Mr. Rossmo said he would like to have legal representation at the hearing to protect his reputation. He said he was concerned that some witnesses at the inquiry "might not be bound by the truth" and will give a totally distorted representation of the facts. He dismissed as unrealistic a suggestion from Attorney-General Barry Penner that commission counsel could act on his behalf.

Mr. Rossmo also wondered whether the inquiry would achieve anything. If the government is already refusing to provide funding, how likely is it that the government will commit funds to implement recommendations that come out of the inquiry, he asked.

He said he would likely decide in the fall whether to participate.

Earlier Wednesday, two prominent aboriginal groups formally withdrew from the inquiry, adding to a growing list of groups who have decided they cannot participate without government funding for legal representation at the hearings.

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"The decisions and sheer hypocrisy of the Christy Clark government have effectively slammed the door to this Inquiry," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, stated in a news release.

Terry Teegee, vice-chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, also said in the release the inquiry was an opportunity for Ms. Clark's government to demonstrate that the safety of first nation women and their families matter to the government. "With the full involvement of all the participants, this inquiry, and the full and meaningful implementation of its recommendations, could have been a small but significant measure of justice," he stated.

The two aboriginal organizations informed inquiry head Wally Oppal Wednesday that they would not participate in the inquiry.

The B.C. government appointed the inquiry last October to look into the investigation of the murdered and missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and into why Mr. Pickton was not arrested earlier. Commissioner Oppal had recommended government funding for lawyers for several women and aboriginal groups.

At issue is whether the groups would have the resources to cross-examine police witnesses and review thousands of pages of internal police documents that will be available at the hearing. Although the government refused to pay the legal bills of the groups, the RCMP and police will be represented by taxpayer-funded lawyers.

Grand Chief Phillip stated that the UBCIC had been concerned about the inquiry since its inception. "Initially, the UBCIC was deeply troubled by the extremely narrow and restrictive terms of reference, the tight timelines and was shocked by the unilateral appointment of BC's former Attorney-General Wally Oppal as Commissioner," Grand Chief Phillip said. "From the start, it appeared there was an incredibly low and impenetrable funding ceiling for this inquiry," he added.

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He expressed support for families of women who were murdered and those who had pushed for an inquiry. "We continue our commitment to them and to work with them to ensure justice will one day be served. We will not abandon them." Grand Chief Phillip said.

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