A former Vancouver police chief has told the Pickton inquiry that budget constraints hampered the investigation into the disappearance of sex trade workers in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Terry Blythe said that when he took over as chief in June 1999, he inherited a big financial problem, with 80 per cent of the department's annual budget already spent.

When city hall refused extra funding for a joint operation with Coquitlam RCMP to investigate pig farmer Robert Pickton, Blythe said he went ahead and spent some money without approval.

That earned him a rebuke from then-mayor Phillip Owen, Blythe said.

"’We should not be outside of Vancouver doing anything,’" he quoted Owen as saying. "He was pretty upset about that."

Pickton, arrested in 2002, was convicted in 2007 of the murders of six women, although the DNA or remains of 33 women were found on his property.

The inquiry is trying to determine why it took as long as it did for the RCMP and the Vancouver police to catch up to Pickton.

High-profile legal representation

Blythe has brought in well-known criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan of Toronto to represent him at the inquiry.

On Monday, Greenspan walked his client through some questioning meant to counter some of the allegations of police disinterest that the inquiry has heard so far.

"There have been suggestions that the police department didn't make the effort it should have investigating the missing women, because many of the women were from the Downtown Eastside and were sex trade workers and were aboriginal," Greenspan put it to Blythe.

"I totally disagree with it," Blyth said.

Author Stevie Cameron, who wrote the book On The Farm about the Pickton case, said the presence of Greenspan demonstrates the lengths to which the Vancouver police are willing to go to protect the force’s reputation.

"It makes me think the police department here must be frantic about their former chief and the other people who will be coming up because they've hired one of the most expensive criminal defence lawyers in the country," Cameron said.

Greenspan has charged up to $1,200 an hour in fees on some of the cases he’s worked on, Cameron said.

With files from the CBC's Belle Puri