Former Vancouver police officer, Kim Rossmo, right, and his lawyer, Mark Swarok, arrive to testify before the missing women inquiry at Federal Court in Vancouver Tuesday.
There are lawyers, dozens of them. New ones arrive almost daily at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, called to examine how police investigations did not lead to the timely arrest of serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton. The inquiry has been grinding along inside a downtown Vancouver hearing room since October. The room is getting crowded.
“You know what? If I had it my way, we’d have no lawyers here,” inquiry boss Wally Oppal deadpanned Wednesday. “It would move things faster.”
Perhaps. But proceedings have become more complicated, hence the lawyer influx. Some of the latecomers to introduce themselves were hired by former senior police officers, members of a purported “old boys club” who in recent days have been described by inquiry witnesses as ineffective, ignorant, arrogant and unprofessional. And worse.
Mr. Oppal worries that too much blame is being placed on such individuals. “We’re not looking for scapegoats,” he told the inquiry Wednesday. The point of the process, he said, is “to make sure this [example of police failure] doesn’t happen again.” The evidence “seems to indicate the failures that took place were systemic.”
But the evidence directly points to cops who personally messed up. Men who will soon be called upon at the inquiry to account for their poor decisions and their inaction. Vastly experienced officers they were, and apparently deaf to early warnings, sounded by underlings, that a lone predator could be responsible for women going missing from Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside (DTES); that a pig farmer Port Coquitlam could be their man.
A serial killer? It was too far-fetched a notion to take seriously, some senior officers seemed to think in 1998, when Pickton’s killing spree had peaked.
The inquiry has already heard how, that year, a corporal in the RCMP’s Coquitlam detachment considered Pickton a prime suspect. He believed him to be capable of murdering and butchering women. The officer was promoted in August 1999 and, against his wishes, assigned to other work.
The Pickton investigation he spearheaded “languished” for the next two years, the inquiry was told. Pickton was finally arrested on his pig farm in February 2002 and charged with killing 26 women. He was convicted in 2007 of murdering six. The remaining 20 charges were stayed.
Problems with individuals were also rife inside the Vancouver Police Department, the inquiry heard this week. As early as 1997, a number of VPD officers raised concerns about the spike in unsolved missing women cases. They suggested a lone predator might be at work in the DTES. They reached out to Kim Rossmo, a VPD criminal profiler who testified this week at the inquiry. An unusual police officer, Mr. Rossmo had an academic bent; he is, in fact, Canada’s first cop to obtain a doctorate degree.
Mr. Rossmo studied the missing women situation. By May 1999, despite the fact no bodies had been found, he was “certain” a serial killer was at work. His superiors were still unconvinced. Mr. Rossmo had already raised the possibility with the officer responsible for solving major crimes in the DTES, Inspector Fred Biddlecombe, and was shot down.
In 1997, Pickton picked up a prostitute, took her to his pig farm and knifed her. She died but was revived by EMS. This is a police account of the incident.
The inspector wasn’t indifferent to the missing women cases, Mr. Rossmo told the inquiry. But he was openly hostile to the serial killer theory. “He was very angry with me for keeping this thing alive,” Mr. Rossmo testified. At one point, in late 1998, Insp. Biddlecombe threw “a temper tantrum” during a meeting in which the issue was briefly discussed. “He was angry and unreasonable,” Mr. Rossmo recalled for the inquiry. “My impression is he believed there was no serial murderer and we were just wasting his time. [His belief] was that the missing women would be found.”
A VPD sergeant approached Mr. Rossmo later, apologized for his boss’s behaviour and expressed his own fear that the missing women cases would not be investigated properly. That fear was not misplaced.
Mr. Rossmo left the VPD in December 2000 and moved to the United States, where he teaches police investigation techniques. (To who? I've seen no difference anywhere in this nation, and we certainly have a lot more missing women than Canada had! // BMW)
What was going on inside the VPD at such a critical time? Mr. Rossmo could only speculate: too many “hookers” to investigate; too many cases that didn’t really seem to matter much, to society at large, to politicians and members of the media; not enough resources to allocate; too much work.
The Pickton murders could have been solved by late 1999, more than a year ahead of the perpetrator’s eventual arrest, Mr. Rossmo told inquiry lawyer Cameron Ward on Wednesday. Had his victims been middle-class women from a better part of town, he agreed, police would have reacted more quickly and with much more effort. (Even that makes no difference here. Nothing matters in this nation anymore. // BMW)