British Columbia

Missing women inquiry needs expansion: Oppal

B.C.'s inquiry into the mishandling of the Robert Pickton investigation and the missing women from the Downtown Eastside needs to be expanded to allow more public input, according Commissioner Wally Oppal.
Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal is head the inquiry into the Robert Pickton police investigation. ((CBC))

B.C.'s inquiry into the mishandling of the Robert Pickton investigation and the missing women from the Downtown Eastside needs to be expanded to allow more public input, according Commissioner Wally Oppal.

The former attorney general is asking the provincial government to create a study commission that will operate alongside the formal hearing, which is to get underway in June.

In his initial public consultations, Wally Oppal heard from dozens of activists, advocates, family members, and concerned community members, about the breakdowns in the system that allowed convicted serial killer Robert Pickton to get away with murder for as long as he did

By creating another forum as part of the commission, Oppal says more of those voices will be heard.

"What happens is it becomes more inclusive and we can still use their recommendations, their experiences to shape our inquiry," said Oppal.

The mandate of the study commission would be to gather information, do research, discuss policy in a less adversarial form than the formal inquiry.

Attorney General Barry Penner says he's not sure how Oppal's request will affect the length or complexity of the missing women's inquiry but he will take it to cabinet.

"I am still very keen to get timely answers to those question that were set out in the terms of reference because sadly women continue to be attacked and in some cases murdered in the Lower Mainland, so that's very much still a key consideration for me," said Penner.

Advocate rejects study idea

But Gladys Radek, a longtime advocate for the missing and murdered women, who is seeking standing at the hearing, is not happy with Oppal's proposal.

"I'm really angry about this. Why do the taxpayers need to put more money into telling everybody and studying why they screwed up in the first place," she said.

Radek says the study commission would create a separate process for those who've been highly critical of appointment Oppal as commissioner, and what they see as the inquiry's limited scope.

Oppal rejects that criticism, saying the study commission would simply be a way to extend the commission's reach.

Oppal's appointment as commissioner of the inquiry has been criticized  because he was B.C.'s attorney general during the Pickton prosecution and later said he saw no need for an inquiry into the mishandling of the case. Oppal, 70, was B.C.'s attorney general from 2005 until 2009.

Pickton was convicted of murdering six women between the late 1990s and 2002. He had been charged with another 20 killings, but the Crown chose only to prosecute the cases that would most likely to lead to conviction.

The commission's formal hearings will likely begin in the spring and the final report is due by the end of 2011.