BRITISH COLUMBIA

Robert Pickton Inquiry: Fewer Than Half Of Recommendations In Action

11/06/2013 02:30 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
VANCOUVER - Nearly a year after a retired judge called for sweeping change to prevent another Robert Pickton, the British Columbia government has yet to implement the vast majority of his recommendations, with work started on only half of them.

The province has released a report this week outlining its progress in the 11 months since commissioner Wally Oppal issued dozens of recommendations designed to address the failures that allowed Pickton to target sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The government says work has started on 28 of Oppal's recommendations, three of which are considered fully implemented. Half of Oppal's recommendations that relate to the provincial government are not even addressed in this week's status update.

But Oppal said he remains hopeful progress, though slow, will continue.

"I'm as impatient as anyone else, having lived with this for a better part of three years, but I'm trying to change a system that's been in operation for a long time," he said in an interview.

"Change, if it's going to be meaningful and significant change, doesn't come as quickly as some of us would like to see. I'd like to see it being done quicker, but on the other hand, you have to be realistic about it."

Oppal's December 2012 report identified a litany of "systemic" police failures that allowed Pickton to remain at large for so long, while also concluding that if his victims weren't poor, drug-addicted women from the Downtown Eastside, more would have been done to save them.

He issued 65 recommendations, from additional services for vulnerable women to significant changes to the structure of policing in the province. Of those, 56 fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial government.

When Oppal's report was first released, the province quickly followed by announcing funding for the WISH drop-in centre in the Downtown Eastside, which provides services for sex workers. The funding was listed in Oppal's report as one of two "urgent" recommendations.

The government also notes it immediately heeded a pair of recommendations for an adviser to oversee the report's implementation and work with the Downtown Eastside community, First Nations and the victims' families. The government appointed former lieutenant governor Steven Point to fulfil that role, though he resigned in May of this year and has not been replaced.

Oppal said Wednesday he was glad to see the province move quickly to fund WISH and he believes the government is making progress in other areas.

Still, he said he was concerned the province has yet to find a solution to another "urgent" recommendation, which called for transportation along the so-called Highway of Tears, or Highway 16, in the province's north.

This week's status update says the Transportation Ministry is preparing to hold consultations on potential transportation options along the Highway 16 corridor, where 18 women have either vanished or been murdered over the past several decades.

Most of the recommendations considered to be works in progress relate to reviewing policing in the province, including how police forces are structured and governed, how they can better work together, and what policies are needed to ensure "bias-free and equitable policing." The province says a review of policing practices will begin in the "coming months."

The government says it is also working on ways to protect vulnerable women from sexual exploitation and trafficking, as well as measures to improve how vulnerable witnesses are treated by the courts.

But there is no mention of the status of several recommendations, including:

— The appointment of an aboriginal elder to oversee a reconciliation progress.

— A compensation fund for the children of the missing and murdered women, as well as a healing fund for the victims' families.

— A number of measures to protect women in the Downtown Eastside, including a protocol that would allow police officers not to enforce warrants when dealing with sex workers reporting violent crime.

— Additional funding for aboriginal women's organizations to address violence on reserves, as well as to safe houses and counselling programs for women and youth.

Premier Christy Clark asked for patience as she reiterated her government's promise to implement all of Oppal's recommendations.

"We're trying to get, as quickly as we can, to fulfilling all of those recommendations, which we said we would do," Clark said Wednesday at an unrelated event in Vancouver.

"These problems have been going on for years and years and years. I think it's fair to expect that a durable solution will take a little bit of time."

The Opposition New Democrats' women's critic, Maurine Karagianis, said the government has done far too little to ensure Oppal's recommendations become reality.

"I think they have failed to address many of the recommendations coming out of the missing women inquiry, and I don't see that this report has in any way shown us how they're going to move forward," Karagianis said in an interview.

"I would also hope that the next time they put out a progress report, they've demonstrated real progress."

Karagianis said the government should immediately find someone to replace Steven Point.

Jason Gratl, a lawyer who was appointed at the inquiry to represent community interests, said the progress report released this week is a tacit admission that the government has failed.

"Reading between the lines, the report admits that the Oppal recommendations, save for the funding for the (WISH drop-in centre), have not been implemented," said Gratl.

"Some of recommendations, they say they're working on, but very few details are offered. In some cases, the province is ignoring them entirely."

Gratl now represents the children of six women whose remains or DNA were found on Pickton's farm. The children have launched lawsuits against the Vancouver police, the RCMP and Pickton himself.

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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