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Robert Pickton makes court appearance via video link

A native woman burns sweet grass during a protest outside the Missing Women's Inquiry in Vancouver, June 6, 2012. The inquiry probed why it took so long to catch serial killer Robert Pickton, who is believed to have killed more than 20 women before he was arrested in 2002.


Serial killer Robert Pickton appeared in court by video Tuesday for a civil case involving the families of several of his victims, one of the first times anyone from outside the prison system has seen the notorious murderer in the years since his conviction.

Mr. Pickton, bald and wearing a white shirt as he sat in a room at Kent Institution, listened to a B.C. Supreme Court judge and the lawyer for nine families explain the proceedings. The children of nine women filed separate lawsuits last year.

The families' statements of claim, which contain unproven allegations, target Mr. Pickton for the deaths of the women, and seven of the lawsuits also name Mr. Pickton's brother, David, who the families allege helped Robert Pickton cover up an attack on a sex worker in 1997.

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The lawsuits allege the Vancouver police, the RCMP and several individual officers botched their investigations into missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and into Mr. Pickton as a possible suspect in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Lawyers for the families were in court Tuesday because they want the findings of a public inquiry to be binding on the City of Vancouver and the B.C. government, which represents the Vancouver police and the RCMP, respectively, and they also want the governments to pay their legal bills in advance of the case.

Mr. Pickton was asked whether he wanted to be involved in this stage of the hearings, since the outcome of the families' applications wouldn't directly affect him.

"It doesn't make that much difference," Mr. Pickton told Judge Susan Griffin in a raspy voice. "I'll leave it up to you. I'll leave it to your discretion."

"I'm going to say that you should attend, just so you are informed of what's going on," replied Judge Griffin.

In his inquiry report, commissioner Wally Oppal identified years of critical mistakes, poor police leadership and "systemic bias" that allowed Mr. Pickton to remain at large.

The governments have opposed the families' application to bring in Mr. Oppal's report, arguing a public inquiry is not the same thing as a criminal or civil trial, and therefore the inquiry's conclusions can't be used in court.

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Mr. Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence, with no parole for at least 25 years.

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