Cindy Feliks went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in late 1997, a few months after Robert Pickton was arrested for attempted murder of a prostitute following a brutal stabbing incident.
"If he had been put in jail then, a lot of lives would have been saved, including my daughter," Ms. Feliks's mother, Marilyn Kraft, said Thursday as she joined a rapidly growing chorus calling for a provincial inquiry into Vancouver's missing women.
"Why didn't they go ahead at the beginning, when that girl was attacked by Pickton and nearly killed and she got away? Why wasn't that followed up? Why wasn't he put in jail? Why were charges stayed," she said."[The charges] were dropped and he just kept on with his killings."
Details of Mr. Pickton's arrest in 1997 were disclosed this week after a publication ban was lifted on evidence that the jury did not hear at his murder trial. The Supreme Court of Canada last week upheld his conviction for second-degree murder in the deaths of six women. Police believe he killed 33 and possibly up to 49 women who worked as prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside.
However, five years before the serial killer was detained by police in 2002, Mr. Pickton had been arrested on charges of attempted murder, assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. A drug-addicted prostitute who says she is the only person to have escaped Mr. Pickton was stabbed during a fight after he had begun to put handcuffs on her. The charges were stayed on Jan. 27, 1998, and wiped off the books in January, 1999. The woman's name remains protected by a publication ban.
Ms. Feliks's family told police that she had gone missing in December, 1997, Ms. Kraft said. The family knew something was up after Ms. Feliks's "so-called addicted friends" started calling, saying they had not seen her, she said. The police, however, did not investigate.
"We were told, when we reported Cindy missing, 'Oh yeah, she will show up. She will be around her usual haunts. Maybe she went out of town,' " Ms. Kraft recalled. Police did not put Ms. Feliks on the list of missing women from the Downtown Eastside until 2001.
"That was four years we were in limbo," she said. "That's another thing that hurts really bad, the way they talked about the women, like they were third-class citizens."
Ms. Feliks's DNA was discovered in ground meat in a freezer on the Pickton farm. However, the prosecution decided to stay first degree-murder charges against Mr. Pickton for the death of Ms. Feliks and 19 other women, saying he has already received the maximum sentence available in the Canadian legal system.
A provincial inquiry is especially necessary after the prosecution decided not to proceed with the outstanding murder charges, Ms. Kraft said. "They are not going ahead with a trial for the other 20 - they should use that money for a good inquiry. There are a lot of unanswered questions," she said.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C., Civil Liberties Association, a former Vancouver police officer who worked in the Downtown Eastside and Vancouver acting mayor Raymond Louie also called for an inquiry on Thursday.
Several native groups have previously pressed for an inquiry, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in an interview. The B.C. government's response was that an inquiry could not be held because Mr. Pickton's case was before the courts.
"Now that that court process has come to an end, there is no good reason on the part of the provincial government not to take immediate steps to begin to initiate a full public inquiry into this horrific tragedy," he said. "The families deserve answers, given the strong likelihood that these tragedies need not have happened, had the police agencies been more diligent in their work."
Mr. Louie said an inquiry is "even more important now," following disclosure of previously restricted evidence from the Pickton trial. An inquiry could look into what happened to information that could have led to an earlier arrest of Mr. Pickton and what could have been done differently.
B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong, who was not available Thursday for an interview, has said he would ask cabinet to consider whether to appoint an inquiry after he receives internal reviews undertaken by the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP.
VPD Constable Lindsey Houghton said the agency's internal review of its activities, which is in excess of 400 pages, was sent to the B.C. government earlier this week. The police department will not release the report until the government announces its decision on an inquiry, he said.
RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk said two senior officers from Alberta conducted a review of how the RCMP handled missing-women cases. Government lawyers are now taking a final look at the report, he said, in part to determine whether the Mounties will face civil litigation following its release.