BRITISH COLUMBIA

Steven Point Resigns, Robert Pickton Inquiry Chair 'Put On Notice'

05/17/2013 01:43 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT
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VANCOUVER - A former British Columbia lieutenant governor appointed five months ago to help implement recommendations from the Robert Pickton inquiry resigned Friday, saying he's been "served with documents" related to a series of lawsuits filed by the children of four murdered women.

But Steven Point's departure raised immediate questions about the explanation both he and the provincial government provided, with the mother of one of Pickton's victims saying Point told her he was considering stepping down more than a month ago and the lawyer involved in the lawsuits denying Point has been formally served with anything.

Point, who was appointed chair an advisory committee last December, said his resignation was prompted by four lawsuits filed earlier this month by children of women whose remains or DNA were found on the serial killer's farm.

"Litigation has been commenced by certain family members of the victims of Pickton, and I have been served with documents that have put me on notice regarding this litigation," Point wrote in a letter to Attorney General Shirley Bond, dated Friday.

Bond released her own statement that said "the plaintiffs have put Mr. Point on notice" that his public comments could become evidence in the civil case. A ministry spokeswoman later said the families sent Point a copy of the statements of claim, which he interpreted as having been "put on notice."

Point was appointed to help oversee the implementation of a report prepared by Wally Oppal, who spent months hearing evidence about the failed police investigations into Pickton and reports of missing sex workers. Oppal's report included 63 recommendations.

Earlier this month, the children of four women filed separate lawsuits against Pickton, his two siblings, the B.C. government and the City of Vancouver, seeking damages for the women's deaths and the botched investigation that failed to prevent them.

A lawyer for the victims' families, Jason Gratl, said neither he nor his clients have ever suggested Point could be dragged into the civil case.

Although he didn't want to be quoted, Gratl was clearly upset with what he perceived as an attempt to blame the children of the women for Point's decision to resign. He provided a copy of the email he sent Point, along with the statements of claim, which made no mention of Point becoming a potential witness.

"I appreciate that neither of you are parties to the action," Gratl wrote in an email to both Point and Oppal, dated May 8.

"But I thought you might be asked to comment on the claims at some point, and it might be of assistance to you if you had a chance to review them first," the email stated.

Michele Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie Lane was among the many women whose remains were found on Pickton's farm, was skeptical of Point's resignation.

Pineault was at an Assembly of First Nations event in Edmonton in early April, which she said was attended by Point and other family members connected to the Pickton case.

"We had dinner, Steven Point was there with all the family members, and told us that he had been thinking about stepping down, that he had family issues and it was a difficult task (chairing the advisory committee)," Pineault said in an interview.

"That was before any lawsuits before any family members, so I don't like the fact that he is now using the backs of the families to step down. He could have done that graciously on his own."

Point did not return email and telephone messages seeking further explanation about his resignation.

Bond, the attorney general, had little to say about Pineault's claims that Point was already considering stepping down.

"Mr. Point's resignation letter speaks for itself," Bond said in a written statement.

"All I can tell you is that he informed us he made the decision to resign based on the potential liability that may be incurred while litigation is underway."

Bond also said the lawsuits could slow the province's work to implement the report's recommendations, though she did not explain why that would be the case or what specific work would be affected.

"Continuing to address the recommendations is very important to me personally and to our government, but we also need to ensure that as we do that we consider the impact of the litigation that is underway," Bond said in a statement.

"That is exactly what we intend to do and move forward as soon as possible."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a joint news release criticizing Point's resignation and the government's suggestion that the lawsuits could prevent the province from implementing Oppal's recommendations.

"It appears that the government is prepared to indefinitely stall or abandon this work," Micheal Vonn, policy director of the civil liberties association, said in the news release.

"This is a terrible indicator of the state of the government’s commitment to women’s safety and equality. "

Oppal said he was disappointed to hear about Point's resignation.

"I know he was making progress on the report," Oppal said in an interview. "Obviously, I am concerned because I wanted to see a speedy resolution as far as the recommendations of the report are concerned. "

The lawsuits involve the daughters and sons of Dianne Rock, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks and Yvonne Boen. They were not among the six women Pickton was convicted of killing, but their remains or DNA were found on Pickton's property following his arrest.

Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton's property in Port Coquitlam. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed a total of 49.

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