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pickton inquiry

The former commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, Gary Bass(left), along with Senior commission counsel, Art Vertlieb(right), make their way back to the hearing after a break in the Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, May 23, 2012.

The RCMP was monitoring an after-hours hangout during the same period that serial killer Robert Pickton lured some of his victims there to be abused and drugged, a lawyer for the victims' families suggested at the Oppal inquiry.

During a cross-examination Wednesday of former RCMP deputy commissioner Gary Bass, lawyer Cameron Ward said RCMP were monitoring Mr. Pickton's brother, David, as part of a narcotics investigation that included surveillance of the infamous Piggy's Palace, where Mr. Pickton brought prostitutes he picked up from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"I suggest what likely happened here … was [the women]were taken from their usual environment in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, out to the Port Coquitlam neighbourhood, where they were taken to parties at Piggy's Palace," said Mr. Ward.

Piggy's Palace, located on a rural road around the corner from the Pickton farm, was an after-hours night club run by Robert and Dave Pickton. Mr. Ward said Piggy's Palace was well known as a gathering place for members and associates of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.

The women from the Downtown Eastside were given drugs at Piggy's Palace, "used and abused," and later killed at the Pickton farm "while the RCMP's organized crime agency simultaneously conducted intelligence operations on Hells Angels and associates who frequented the area," Mr. Ward suggested to Mr. Bass.

However, both Mr. Bass, and later Wednesday deputy chief Doug LePard, of the Vancouver Police Department, dismissed Mr. Ward's suggestion. "There is no information to support what Mr. Ward is suggesting," deputy chief LePard told the inquiry.

Mr. Bass, who was B.C.'s top Mountie when he retired last year, said he had not heard about Piggy's Palace until after Robert Pickton was arrested in February, 2002. He did not know Dave Pickton was a suspect in an illegal narcotics investigation, he said.

Mr. Bass confirmed that the RCMP in the 1990s conducted several large-scale operations involving investigations into the Hells Angels motorcycle clubs in the Lower Mainland. Full-patch members were convicted after an investigation into the motorcycle club that involved an agent buying drugs, Mr. Bass said

Keeping close tabs on the Hells Angels was "absolutely" a priority for the RCMP between 1997 and 2002, the five years leading up to Robert Pickton's arrest, he said.

However, Mr. Bass said he was not aware that the inquiry had any documents on what was happening at Piggy's Palace. He had never seen any reports or had any briefings that indicated that women were being killed while the RCMP had Piggy's Palace under surveillance, he told the inquiry.

The inquiry would have to look at the records of the RCMP's criminal intelligence section or the organized crime agency during the period they conducted their investigation, he said. Those records have not been submitted to the inquiry.

During the questioning of Mr. Bass, Mr. Ward said police officers checked out Dave Pickton on their internal record system 107 times before Robert was arrested in 2002. The inquiries came from several police detachments, including Vancouver, New Westminster, Delta, Coquitlam, Surrey and Richmond.

The RCMP physical surveillance section took an interest in Dave Pickton as a suspect in illegal narcotics, Mr. Ward said.

Public hearings at the inquiry are to conclude this week. Former attorney-general Wally Oppal was appointed in the fall of 2010 to look into the police investigation leading up to the arrest of Robert Pickton in 2002.

Mr. Pickton was convicted of six murders and once said he killed 49 women. Mr. Oppal is to submit a final report to the provincial government by the end of June.