POLITICS
03/29/2012 02:23 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Families of Robert Pickton's victims ask for extension of missing women inquiry

VANCOUVER - If the B.C. government refuses a request to extend the inquiry into the Robert Pickton case, it will show that society is just as prejudiced now as it was when women were disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the families of Pickton's victims say.

Lillian Beaudoin and Lori-Ann Ellis told reporters Thursday the inquiry needs more time beyond the April 30 deadline to question witnesses, giving Commissioner Wally Oppal the information he needs to determine why Pickton was allowed to prey on women for so long.

With the family members of several victims standing behind her, Ellis said they can't accept that the inquiry they fought so hard for would be cut short because of a government-imposed deadline.

"We, the families, are extremely concerned," she said.

They asked that Attorney General Shirley Bond and Premier Christy Clark extend the terms of reference and give the inquiry the resources it needs to complete the work properly.

Ellis, the sister-in-law of Cara Ellis who's DNA was found on Pickton's farm, said allowing the extension would show the families that the attitude of society has changed and that these women did not die in vain.

To refuse, would show that society is just as intolerant as it was when Pickton carried out his reign of terror.

"Our loved ones were victimized by a serial killer in life and victimized by a failed police investigation after their death," Ellis said as her voice cracked with emotion.

"Let them not be further victimized by a failed public inquiry that does nothing to prevent a similar tragedy from reoccurring."

Lillian Beaudoin, sister to Dianne Rock whose DNA was also found on the Pickton farm, said she's never been able to accept that charges in her sister's case were dropped against Pickton.

She said the public inquiry is the only other outlet victims' families have to find out what happened and why the police took so long to capture Pickton.

"This inquiry was called to investigate the most significant serial murder case in Canadian history, yet the inquiry is facing a rapidly approaching deadline of April 30 with much work left to do."

Attorney General Shirley Bond said the argument is very compelling, saying she couldn't imagine the devastation and pain the families go through in those kinds of circumstances.

But she said Oppal has already been given a six-month extension and his report will be delivered by June 30.

"I think families and the government share the same goal. We want to get to the bottom of what happened related to police conduct in this situation. And again, we have to make changes."

Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb said a final witness list has yet to be established, but he said the hearing portion of the inquiry will likely be extended past the end-of-April deadline into May.

The inquiry still needs to hear from some police officers, aboriginal witnesses and Crown prosecutors involved in a decision to stay attempted murder charges against Pickton for an attack on a sex worker in 1997.

However, Vertlieb said the commission is "very much" working toward completion of the report by the end of June.

"We still have that schedule, no one here has given up on that," Vertlieb said. "I haven't said to the commissioner 'you better apply for an extension.'"

Vertlieb agreed the inquiry had been bogged down with witnesses, but that changed when it went to hearing witnesses in a panel process.

There are dozens of lawyers involved in the inquiry and they may also want to make closing arguments, which could take some time.

Vertlieb said the lawyers may be limited in their close, but that he hadn't yet discussed that with Oppal.

"It's a fluid process," he added.

New Democrat Opposition Leader Adrian Dix said the family members who didn't see Pickton prosecuted for charges connected to their loved ones fought hard for the inquiry.

"The fact is the inquiry is in serious jeopardy. Groups have withdrawn from their participation, the credibility of the inquiry is at stake, the commissioner is changing the rules to hurry through the witness process," he said.

"This is simply not good enough."

Vancouver New Democrat MLA Jenny Kwan said if the government can allow years for an inquiry into a man Tasered by Mounties, it should be able to grant an extension to the inquiry looking into the deaths of dozens of women.

The Braidwood Inquiry looking into the death of Robert Dziekanski was held in two phases and the commission was granted an extension by then-B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing six women, but was charged with killing 26. In a jailhouse confession, he said he killed 49.