Politics, lack of Metro police force partly to blame in Pickton murders: report

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - There were "colossal" mistakes made by police in the Robert Pickton case, but politics was also to blame for missed opportunities that might have snared the serial killer much sooner.

The accusation is contained in a key recommendation by Missing Women Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal as he stressed the need for a regional police force in Metro Vancouver.

It's the only major centre in Canada without a regional force, the report notes.

While the debate over a regional force is decades old, Oppal urges political leaders to quickly implement a plan for a Greater Vancouver police force.

"Let's not wait for the next Robert Pickton to strike," Oppal's report said.

The report concluded the "fragmentation" of policing in Metro Vancouver contributed to the failure of police to catch the killer much sooner.

"It is clear from the evidence that a regional police force stood a good chance of apprehending Robert Pickton much earlier," the report said.

But the political debate over a unified police force in the Vancouver region has been simmering on a backburner for a long time and Oppal said in his report that it has nothing to do with policing.

"I underscore that the barriers to a regional police force for Greater Vancouver are political," he concluded.

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond did little to clear up the situation Monday while speaking with the media.

"We're in the process of discussing a 10-year policing plan for British Columbia. I think the concept of what that model might look like deserves further discussion," she said, while refusing to say which model her government would prefer.

"I've always been willing to sit down with mayors in the Vancouver area to talk about that."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he is supportive of the regional-force approach and believes it's crucial to improving public safety and policing.

"I am hopeful that the province will quickly commit to establishing a Metro Vancouver police force as recommended in the report," he said in a statement.

Rob Gordon, the director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, said the issue has always been a political football that's been kicked back and forth between provincial and local politicians.

The same kind of jurisdictional problems were revealed after Clifford Olson was caught for killing 11 B.C. children in the 1980s.

"It's unfortunate— to put it mildly — that the promises that were made at the time of Olson matter weren't honoured.

"We heard exactly the same rhetoric coming from the RCMP at the time and the politicians at the time, that this would never happen again, you know, that they slipped up, they wouldn't communicate with each other etc., etc."

But he said the minute the Pickton matter surfaced, it was clear such a horrible event had repeated itself.

Gordon said the provincial government has been unable or unwilling to move ahead, mostly because it's not a priority for the provincial government and doesn't gather votes.

"Unfortunately it's taken a serial murderer like Pickton to really fire this one up for people to see the absurdity of the policing system that we have."

Gordon said he hopes the idea becomes an issue in the May provincial election.

He said the issue is vital, both for saving lives and costs.

Cities in B.C. that are policed by the RCMP just recently signed a 20-year agreement. However there is a two-year option to get out of the agreement.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens said the report's recommendations will need to be reviewed and considered and he said his department will work with the attorney general and policing partners to "move forward."

"The RCMP remains committed to a co-operative and co-ordinated approach in the way in which we approach major criminal investigation and policing in general in the province of British Columbia."

Oppal's report said systemic bias against Pickton's victims, many of them drug addicted sex-trade workers, allowed the serial killer to prey on the women for years in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

NDP justice critic Leonard Krog said no British Columbian could take pride in what the report reveals about our society.

"The police involved, I would hope, have learned a very serious and sad lesson."

But Krog said there are many issues — especially systemic racism — that can't immediately be solved by a regional police force.

"I don't think we should see it as a panacea to the problems the commission itself has addressed ... which is systemic sexism, systemic racism, attitudes about people who are drug addicted or mentally ill or vulnerable," he said.

Krog said if the New Democrats are elected in the May provincial election, regional policing will likely undergo an extensive examination, but he wasn't prepared to commit to the concept following the release of the Oppal report.

Pickton was convicted of killing six women, but the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm.