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Robert Pickton was within the law's grasp in 1997, but the legal system let him slip away. That awful truth - disclosed with the lifting of a publication ban in Mr. Pickton's case and the staying of charges in 20 other murders he is alleged to have committed - illustrates the depth of the injustice visited on Mr. Pickton's victims since the first woman went missing.

Newly released testimony reveals that one woman who survived her encounter with Mr. Pickton helped bring him to the authorities. Lured to his compound in March, 1997, she was attacked by Mr. Pickton, but stabbed him in self-defence, escaped and survived, despite losing almost three litres of blood. She ended up in Port Moody's Eagle Ridge Hospital, as did Mr. Pickton. Police were called and charges of attempted murder laid, yet, incredibly, prosecutors chose not to try Mr. Pickton: the woman was not "credible" and her testimony would not hold up in court, they apparently believed.

This judgement itself is deeply disturbing. And even in the absence of a credible witness, there was telling physical evidence: a handcuff, on the woman; a handcuff key that fit, on Mr. Pickton's person. Yet still Mr. Pickton went unpunished.

By this point, several Vancouver women with similar backgrounds as prostitutes and drug users had already gone missing under similar circumstances. It's horrible to think that this serial killer's monstrous rampage could have been stopped then and there. But it wasn't.

Police have often been blamed for the delay in apprehending Mr. Pickton, and such criticisms have often been justified. But this was not a police choice; any decision not to prosecute ultimately lies with the Crown. And even when Mr. Pickton went to trial for other killings, this woman's testimony was still excluded.

Alleging systematic bias in the justice system should only be done with the most extreme care. But so much about the Pickton case - the delayed investigation;, the failure to connect the cases of the missing women; the most recent revelations - makes any other conclusion difficult to draw. The criminal justice system is not just for those with resources and status - it is for women with addiction problems, for aboriginals who fall into prostitution.

Mr. Pickton sits in prison, convicted on six-counts of second-degree murder, likely never to be released. He murdered or was alleged to have murdered 21 more women after that night in March, 1997. His victims were all apparently considered nobodies, and so they were treated like nobodies.