The public inquiry looking into why it took so long to catch serial killer Robert Pickton has come to a close in Vancouver, as testimony and submissions ended Wednesday with a defence of police and a plea for sense in dealing with drug-addicted sex workers.
It now remains for Commissioner Wally Oppal to complete his report and recommendations, due at the end of October.
The public hearing phase wrapped up much as it began — with the downtown Vancouver street where the inquiry was held blocked off by protestors, some weeping in memory of the missing and murdered.
Many groups boycotted the hearings, saying it was stacked in favour of the police.
“It feels incomplete,” said Cynthia Cardinal, sister of one of the murdered women, Georgina Papin.
“We didn't really get the answers we wanted and things didn't go the way we wanted to because of the lack of evidence.”
Earlier this week, the lawyer for 26 of the families, Cameron Ward, ended his submissions with a blistering critique, saying the commission failed because vital evidence was never heard.
Pickton claimed after he was arrested that he had killed 49 women.
One of the key questions facing the inquiry is how so many women could have disappeared over so many years without an arrest, or even public acknowledgement a serial killer was at work.
Police on defensive
One police lawyer told the commission in a final submission Wednesday that authorities often seem to be in a no-win position.
“If the police are too present, they're over-policing, harassing, displacing the sex trade workers, as we've heard here,” said Vanessa Christie, counsel for retired Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe and deputy chief, Al Unger.
“If the police are not present enough, they're disengaged, disinterested, not protecting the sex trade workers, as we've heard here.”
Christie urged the commission to avoid blaming individuals, such as her clients, saying that if there was a failure, it was the lack of resources and other constraints facing police.
The sordid and sad world of the sex trade workers who were killed also figured prominently.
Women will remain vulnerable as long as addiction is treated as a criminal problem rather than a health issue, said Len Doust, lawyer for the B.C. government.
“Drug addiction problems are at the root of almost all of the problems of significance in those communities. We try to address them as a society with the criminal justice system, but it's obvious it's going to fail,” Doust said.
The next task is to come up with ways to fix the problems pointed out in the months of testimony. Reform of drug and prostitution laws is just one of the big picture items Oppal will have to deal with as he writes his report in the months ahead.
The other major issue is the complicated web of policing and courts, jurisdictional disputes and the rights of the accused.
The families of the missing and murdered say they want change, but there's lots of politics and turf wars between those calls and real change on the streets.
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