The B.C. government will launch a judicial review or public inquiry into the police investigation of the missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside prior to the arrest of serial murderer Robert Pickton, acting provincial Solicitor General Rich Coleman said Friday.
"I think that we still need to have the transparent review, which the premier has committed to and will take place," Coleman told CBC News. "It's just what form that will take will be decided by cabinet in early September."
Coleman's statement follows the early release Friday of a highly critical Vancouver Police Department internal report on the investigation of Pickton.
Police released a version of the final report — with confidential informants' names blacked out — after the Vancouver Sun published details from a 2004 draft copy.
The internal report, which was completed by Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard by 2006, was supposed to come out Sept. 9 after it was reviewed by the B.C. cabinet.
'I wish we could have caught this monster sooner and saved more lives.'—Doug LePard, Vancouver police deputy chief
But because of a leak to a Vancouver newspaper, the 400-page report was released by LePard and Chief Jim Chu at police headquarters on Friday afternoon.
LePard said he spent two years going over more than 20,000 police documents and interviewing Vancouver police officers to write the report, which blamed systemic issues within the force, rather than individual officers, for the failed investigation.
- Vancouver police should have recognized earlier that a serial killer was preying on women in the city's Downtown Eastside, but management failed to recognize that reality. A bias against sex workers was partly to blame.
- When the force appointed a team to review missing women cases, that unit lacked resources, training and leadership.
- Vancouver police and the RCMP received information in 1998 and 1999 from a number of sources suggesting Pickton was behind the disappearances. That should have prompted more vigorous investigation of him and his farm in Port Coquitlam.
- Those sources included a tipster who told police in July 1999 that Pickton kept a "special freezer" in a barn on his property, where he served strange meat the informant believed was human. The tip was largely ignored.
- When Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler with the Vancouver Police Department, suggested a serial killer was responsible for the women's disappearances, his analysis was dismissed.
- RCMP took over the investigation in 1999 and at first pursued the case intensely, but that progress soon slowed, and the case remained dormant for months.
- RCMP interviewed Pickton in January 2000, but the interview was conducted by officers without extensive interrogation experience or a detailed plan, and they didn't involve Vancouver police.
- During that interview, Pickton consented to a search of his farm, but the RCMP didn't take him up on the offer.
- Despite its own failings, the RCMP failed to correct the public perception that Vancouver police were primarily to blame for botching the Pickton investigation.
Source: Vancouver Police
LePard said the report faults the Vancouver police and the RCMP for not moving quickly enough to arrest Pickton despite compelling evidence collected by 1999 that he could be behind the disappearance of a growing number of missing prostitutes.
"I wish we could have caught this monster sooner and saved more lives," said LePard. "This can never happen again."
In a news release later Friday, the RCMP said it would not respond immediately and would take time to review and analyze the Vancouver police report.
But in the statement, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass also suggested that the force would accept some responsibility for the lapses in the investigation into the Downtown Eastside's missing women.
"The RCMP deeply regrets that we weren't able to gather the evidence necessary to lay a charge sooner, and we welcome independent insight into our actions at that time. The impact that this has had on the families of the victims weighs heavily on us individually and as an organization."
Better communication needed
The Vancouver police report said evidence included eyewitness accounts of a woman's body in Pickton's barn, bags of bloody clothing and women's identification in his trailer and one near-fatal attack on a prostitute he had taken back to his Port Coquitlam pig farm.
"The bigger lesson is we need better communication amongst police," said LePard, who also cited training and staffing issues inside both the Vancouver police and the RCMP.
Many of the changes recommended in the report have already been implemented, he said, but "there is always more to be done to overcome barriers to effectiveness."
LePard also repeated calls for the province to call a public inquiry into the failed investigation. He had already publicly apologized in July for the mistakes police made in the investigation and the delays in Pickton's arrest that likely led to the death of more than a dozen women.
Pickton was eventually arrested following a 2002 search of the farm, and in 2007 he was tried and convicted of second-degree murder in the death of six women whose remains were found on the farm. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
In July, the Crown stayed first-degree murder charges against Pickton for the deaths of 20 other women because it was not possible for him to get a longer sentence. But after his arrest Pickton had told an undercover police officer in his cell that he had killed 49 women in total.
The B.C. NDP also voiced its support Friday for a public inquiry.
The party's public safety critic, Mike Farnworth, said he was deeply troubled by the police errors.
"An inquiry's important, not in terms of trying to find a scapegoat or be a witch hunt," said Farnworth. "But rather to ensure that we find those systemic failures, those policy failures, those resource failures, all those areas where mistakes were made and ensure that changes are put in place."