POLITICS

Former sex worker reveals encounter with man she says was Pickton

05/17/2012 03:57 EDT | Updated 07/17/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - A former sex worker says she found herself sitting in a vehicle next to serial killer Robert Pickton almost two years before his arrest, but when she reported the encounter to police, she was dismissed.

The sex worker was testifying Thursday at a public inquiry into the Pickton investigation, where the Vancouver Police Department immediately attempted to cast doubt on much of what she said, including her claim that the man she encountered confessed to killing sex workers and burying them on his property in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

A lawyer for the force said there were no records of the call the woman said she made to police and argued it never happened.

The woman, who testified anonymously and sat in the witness box wearing large dark sunglasses, told the inquiry she turned to street prostitution for about six months in 2000 to support her addiction to crack cocaine and heroin.

She said sometime in the fall of 2000, she was working the street in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, several kilometres south of the notorious Downtown Eastside.

A grey cube van approached her and she got inside, where she encountered a man who propositioned her to come to a biker party at his farm in Port Coquitlam, the woman testified.

She told the inquiry she declined the offer because she had heard a warning at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre not to get into a vehicle with a man offering to bring women to Port Coquitlam.

"So when I had the conversation with Mr. Pickton, he had said, 'Do you want to go out to the biker party,' and I said, 'No,' and he said, 'Why not?' and I said, 'Because I know what you're doing out there — these women are missing,'" the woman told the inquiry.

"And he said, 'Yes, all of them are on my property, I killed them.'"

The woman said she demanded to get out of the van and threatened to go to associates in the "criminal side of life if he didn't let her go. She said she jumped out of the moving vehicle, which then sped away.

She later phoned the police, she told the inquiry.

"I reported it," she said.

"I said, 'I've just gotten out of a man's car who's admitted to me to killing the women.' ... And they said, 'Basically, we don't believe your story, and we're doing the best we can on keeping an eye on him.'"

Sean Hern, a lawyer for the Vancouver police, attempted to cast doubt on the woman's story, telling the inquiry his department could not locate any records connected to such a call.

"I can tell you that (the woman's) name has been searched in order to identify any incident," said Hern.

"I can only assume that if that call occurred — and I'll argue and suggest it didn't — it must not have generated an incident report."

Hern noted the woman referred to contacting "the task force," but he said the RCMP-led joint missing women investigation known as Project Evenhanded wasn't launched until the following year.

However, the woman never said she talked to the RCMP and acknowledged she didn't know which police department she reached after dialing 911. Hern neglected to mention the Vancouver police department's own missing women review team was still up and running in the fall of 2000.

The woman, who is 38, said she entered rehab in December 2000 and has been clean ever since. She later went to school and is now employed, she said.

Also on Thursday, the inquiry heard from a former NDP premier of British Columbia, Ujjal Dosanjh. He was attorney general in the late 1990s as reports of missing sex workers escalated, including when a $100,000 reward was issued in April 1999.

The police force was opposed to a reward, but the city's police board voted to issue one anyway. The city contributed $30,000, while the province kicked in $70,000.

Dosanjh said beyond that, he never received any requests from police, either in Vancouver or the RCMP in Port Coquitlam, for more resources. He said it wasn't his place to attempt to manage a police investigation.

"Despite the perception in the outside world that the attorney general has these powers, I learned very quickly that the attorney general cannot direct the police to investigate anyone, or the nature of the investigation, how to investigate, when to investigate and who to investigate," said Dosanjh.

"It was important to me. If you're the attorney general of the province and you have a feeling out there that not enough is being done because these women were poor, drug addicts, they were aboriginal, they lived on the margins of society, that struck a very, very deep chord in me."

Dosanjh was NDP premier from 2000 until he was defeated by Gordon Campbell's Liberals in 2001. He became a Liberal MP in 2004 and remained in federal politics until he was defeated in the May 2011 election.

The inquiry is examining why the Vancouver police and the RCMP failed to catch Pickton as he was murdering sex workers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Pickton was arrested in February 2002.

He was eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed 49.