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Police apologize to families of Pickton's victims

Ernie Cray stands at the gate of the the former pig farm owned by serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia July 29, 2010. Cray's sister Dawn was one of Pickton's victims. Canada's highest court refused to grant a new trial for the serial killer who was convicted of killing drug addicts and prostitutes and butchering their remains at the pig farm.

Andy Clark

Vancouver police have offered an unqualified apology to the families of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside who were viciously murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton, acknowledging they made mistakes and regretting that they did not stop him earlier.

"We're sorry from the bottom of our hearts that we did not catch him sooner and protect more women from being harmed," Doug LePard, deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department, told reporters at a news conference on Friday. None of the victims' family members were in the room to hear his apology.

Deputy Chief LePard said that he wished he could undo the mistakes and that more lives had been saved. "While many investigators poured their hearts and souls into this case from different agencies and different jurisdictions over a number of years, still, when faced with the worst, we should have done better," he said.

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The Supreme Court on Friday upheld Mr. Pickton's conviction for second-degree murder in the deaths of six women, and the Crown announced its intention to stay charges in another 20 cases. At the same time, police said that they have evidence that indicates Mr. Pickton is responsible for at least 33 deaths. They also are investigating whether he murdered as many as 49, as he claimed after his arrest.

I wish from the bottom of my heart that we had caught him sooner Doug LePard, deputy chief for the Vancouver police

Crown prosecutors do not intend to pursue any more murder charges against Mr. Pickton, said Neil MacKenzie, a spokesman for the Crown prosecutors. Mr. Pickton has already received a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years, which is the maximum penalty that can be imposed in Canada, he said.

The prosecutors recognized that some victims families would have difficulty accepting the decision, he said.

However, RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk told reporters police will continue to investigate, although any evidence they collect may not lead to criminal charges. Police believe it is important for the families and the public to know what happened to those women, he said.

Al Macintyre, Assistant RCMP Commissioner in charge of the criminal investigation, said the police will pursue the case "until we have exhausted all possible avenues of investigation." The task force undertaking the work has a staff of 51. "This investigation is far from over," he said.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld Mr. Pickton's conviction of murdering Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe and Georgina Papin. The six women had been addicted to drugs and worked as prostitutes in Canada's most destitute neighbourhood, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Evidence at his trial showed that Mr. Pickton, in a diabolical scheme, lured the women to his isolated farm in Port Coquitlam, killed and butchered them as if they were animals and disposed of body parts, possibly at a rendering plant. The ghastly testimony about drugs, sex and horrific killing drew huge international attention to the remote Vancouver suburb after he was arrested on Feb. 22, 2002.

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Mr. Pickton's sentence begins from his arrest and he will be eligible for day parole and unescorted absences by Feb. 22, 2024. He would be eligible for full parole on Feb. 22, 2027. But he would have to persuade a parole board to let him out. Mr. Pickton would not automatically receive parole because he has received a life sentence.

Several women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside went missing before police began a formal investigation. The Vancouver Police Board first offered a reward for information about missing women from the Downtown Eastside in April, 1999. Police at that time told families that the women may have moved away in an attempt to change their lifestyle.

Both the Vancouver police and the RCMP had internal reviews of how they handled the investigation, reporters were told. However, neither police force was prepared to release the reports to the public.

Spokesmen for the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department said the forces endorsed a call by families of the victims for a public inquiry into the investigation of the missing women and the murders. B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong said the provincial government has not yet decided whether an inquiry should be called.

Later, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Union of B,.C. Indian Chiefs added their voices to the call for a public inquiry.

The estimated cost of the police investigation was $122.6-million. The B.C. government has not yet released the cost to the justice system.

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Read the full Supreme Court judgment

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