The sister of a woman killed by Robert Pickton fought back tears as she heard testimony about a top Vancouver cop who allegedly dismissed missing women from the Downtown Eastside as "just hookers."
During a break in Wednesday's Pickton inquiry hearing, Lilliane Beaudoin said in an interview that she was appalled by the attitude of the senior Vancouver police officer. And she was horrified to hear a suggestion that police did not do their job because the women were dismissed as prostitutes.
"My sister Dianne [Rock]was not on the street very long, maybe only the last month of her life. She sold her body to support her drug habit," Ms. Beaudoin said. "[His comments]were extremely offensive."
Ms. Rock, the mother of five children, was reported missing from the Downtown Eastside two months before Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002. Her DNA and some personal items were found on Mr. Pickton's farm.
During cross examination on whether women from the Downtown Eastside were treated differently than others who might have gone missing, Deputy Chief Doug LePard of the Vancouver Police Department confirmed that he had been told that another top cop, Deputy Chief John Unger, had referred to the missing women as "just hookers."
"I agree it is not an appropriate comment. … I thought that it was a terrible remark to make," he said.
Deputy Chief Unger, who served in that role from April 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2002, had wanted to characterize the women as missing, not murdered, Deputy Chief LePard also said. But Deputy Chief LePard dismissed the suggestion that the characterization reflected a dismissive attitude to the women. "It was clear to me that [Deputy Chief]Unger wanted them to be truly missing. He did not want to believe they were murdered," Deputy Chief LePard said.
Commissioner Wally Oppal listened to the account of Deputy Chief Unger's remarks without interruption. Unlike a criminal case, an inquiry is not restricted to firsthand information.
However, Sean Hern, a lawyer representing the Vancouver Police Department, told the inquiry later that Deputy Chief Unger denied "in the strongest terms" making the remarks. Deputy Chief Unger is expected to testify at the inquiry but a date has not been set. The hearings are to continue at least until the end of April.
Deputy Chief LePard told the inquiry that some senior police officers found it difficult to make the conceptual leap to conclude that the missing women had been murdered, he said.
"People wanted to see indisputable evidence that there had been a murder. Most investigations begin with a discovery of a murder and [police]backtrack from the murder, the crime scene, the physical evidence, the witness information," he said.
"When there was none of that, it was difficult, in the absence of a witness, for example, for them to make the leap that [a serial killer preying on women]was actually what this was about," he said.
"It may seem easy to see that, in hindsight, that the information was so compelling. But people struggled with that," Deputy Chief LePard said.
Another factor was that some women reported missing were later found. Deputy Chief LePard cited examples of one woman who went missing in 1997, was reported missing a year later and found two years later in Arizona. Police found two missing women in Ontario, another who changed her name and two who had died, but not of foul play.
"That fed into the misconception police had – look, if we look hard enough, we are going to find them," he said.
When compelling evidence was available in the summer of 1999, the Vancouver Police Department did not have strong leadership that accepted that a serial killer was preying on women, he said.
In addition to Deputy Chief Unger, Bruce Chambers, who was chief from August, 1997, to June, 1999, never fully accepted the serial-killer theory, Deputy Chief LePard said. Neither did Brian McGuiness, deputy chief from January, 1999, to March, 2000.
Investigators who had the best understanding of the issues, such as Constable Lori Shenher, had written memos about the possibility of a serial killer. But senior officers did not accept the information, he said.