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Police clerk said 'missing hookers' not investigated, probe hears

Detail of a poster board showing 48 of the missing women displayed outside the court house in New Westminster Jan. 30, 2007, the seventh day of the Robert Pickton trial.

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

A Vancouver Police Department clerk who took missing persons reports in the late 1990s was overheard saying "racist stuff" and telling a caller that police do not look for "missing hookers," the Pickton inquiry has heard.

The clerk, Sandy Cameron, also mistreated Dorothy Purcell, the mother of Tanya Holyk, lawyer Darrell Roberts told the inquiry on Monday. Mr. Roberts was appointed by the Missing Women Inquiry to represent the views of aboriginal people. Ms. Holyk, 21, was last seen on Oct. 29, 1996, and police say Mr. Pickton killed her.

Ms. Purcell has said Ms. Cameron did not take her report when she told police that her daughter had gone missing, Mr. Roberts said. The clerk suggested she should have been a better mother, giving a response that Ms. Purcell felt had racial undertones, Mr. Roberts said.

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"First nations folks, to report their missing daughters and overcome whatever fears they have, should never have to put up with abuse like that," he said during cross-examination of Vancouver Deputy Chief Doug LePard.

"I agree," Deputy Chief LePard said.

The officer also agreed with a suggestion by Mr. Roberts that the police compromised their investigation of the missing women by undermining the trust of some families.

Complaints of racism levelled against the civilian member of the missing person unit, and of ignoring reports of missing women from some families, were previously documented in a report by Deputy Chief LePard released last year. She was identified as Ms. Cameron at the public inquiry, although Deputy Chief LePard did not identify the clerk by name in the report on the Vancouver police investigation into missing women.

Every officer who worked with the civilian member corroborated some or all of the complaints, the report stated. Several supervisors raised concerns about her over the years, but were not successful in their efforts to address her behaviour or have her removed, Deputy Chief LePard wrote in the report.

The relationship between the Vancouver police and many family members had been "terribly and apparently irrevocably poisoned" as a result of her behaviour, he wrote. However, he concluded that an inference of systemic bias throughout the police organization could not be supported based solely on her "inappropriate and prejudicial" behaviour.

No one spoke on Ms. Cameron's behalf at the inquiry. But in Deputy Chief LePard's report, she responded to the allegations by saying, "What's rude to someone might not be rude to someone else. I think their frustration level was high and I was the prime target." At another point she said: "If you're rude to me, I might get defensive. … There might have been times I was rude."

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Deputy Chief LePard reaffirmed the report's conclusions during cross-examination by lawyer Jason Gratl, who was appointed by the commission to represent the views of Downtown Eastside residents and women who work in prostitution.

Mr. Gratl pressed him on why management within the Vancouver police failed to have her removed. Deputy Chief LePard said his focus was on the missing women investigation and he did not look into the issue.

Earlier, Mr. Roberts suggested that police should have considered different investigative approaches in 1998, four years before the serial killer was arrested.

He put together the foundation for a search warrant of the Pickton farm that he suggested could have been compiled in the fall of 1998. The information came from the investigation of an attempted murder charge against Robert Pickton in March, 1997, and from a tip in the summer of 1998 in which the police were told that women's identifications, purses, bloody clothing, syringes and jewellery were seen in Robert Pickton's trailer.

Mr. Roberts suggested that Vancouver police could have initiated an investigation into kidnapping and obtained a search warrant that would have broken open the case.

Vancouver police had jurisdiction to investigate kidnappings that began in Vancouver, Deputy Chief LePard told the inquiry. But in practical terms, the Coquitlam RCMP took control of the Pickton investigation in the summer of 1998, after Vancouver police told them about the tip they had received, he said.

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