Missing Women: Public Inquiry Waste of Millions

Vancouver Police got it wrong in the beginning … and they’re getting it wrong again at the end.

 The department has jumped on the politically correct bandwagon and supported calls for a public inquiry into what went wrong in the case of the 26 missing women, who are believed to have died at the hands of  Robert Pickton, already convicted of murder in six of the deaths. 

Surely the police and everyone else already knows what went wrong:   the lack of attention to their disappearances right from the start because they were street people and addicts; the lack of  initial co-operation and co-ordination between the various police forces who took far too long to realize a serial killer was on a rampage; the failings of social agencies in keeping track of their “clients”, alerting authorities to their disappearances soon enough and/or helping them get treatment for the substance abuses and emotional problems; and yes, even the negligence of their own families that allowed so many to slide into their distressed situations without getting them the help they needed or, in some cases, even keeping aware of where they were.

All a public inquiry would lead to   …two years down the road … would be another report that will gather more dust than produce results in the way of  very much useful NEW  information.

About all an offical inquiry would do is just put millions of dollars into the pockets of all the lawyers who cash in on  the public inquiry “industry” and produce a document that will likely reveal almost nothing police, the government , the social agencies and the families don’t already know.

Better they take the millions of extra public  dollars it would all cost and put it NOW into actual stepped up services to help the street workers and addicts, who still ply their trade on the downtown eastside,  get the real medical and psychological help they need.

I have no doubt that in all the years the missing womens cases have now been in the main stage spotlight, the police and other authorities have already studied, dissected and determined what went wrong and  already put into place many changes to try to ensure it does not happen again. 

In fact, the VPD will soon be releasing a report into the investigation process and errors made. Even cynics should wait to see that report befroe dismissing it or joining the rush calls for a public inquiry. 

And there are other ways  to make sure all issues/concerns are examined without going for a full inquiry. 

For starters, why not a multi-day series of meetings and conferences involveng all the police, social and government agencies involved …along with family members of the victims?  They could together canvass (behind closed doors if necessary) all the errors that occurred … how and why ….  and then come up with the findings and any recommended changes and controls to ensure such a situation can’t befall our society again.

And provide the extra care and protection on the streets needed right now … not after some study comes out in 2012!

The proposed  public inquiry, in my view, is just a sop to the families of the missing women. It  maybe even win votes among the politically correct  … but it would largely be just a waste of millions of dollars of public money that will yield, as I say, years down the road nothing more than I’m sure police and officials already know has to be done. 

Of course, the media would love an inquiry (easy, cheap news to cover)  and dozens of  lawyers will fill their pockets.

But if we really care about improving the lives of women on the downtown eastside … spend the money that an inquiry would burn up …  down there right NOW instead.

Harv Oberfeld

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15 Responses to Missing Women: Public Inquiry Waste of Millions

  1. Tonja says:

    Wow! Were you really a journalist a some point?
    I hope it was in TV. Surely your weak writing and atrocious grammar wouldn’t cut it in print journalism:
    “All a public inquiry would lead to …two years down the road … would be another report that will gather more dust than produce results in the way of very much useful NEW information.”

    (Response: Yah, babe! Butt wat abowt my pointes the inn-quiree wud just waist monee? h.o)

  2. StandUpforBC says:

    I agree with everything except the reason why an inquiry is being called. I disagree that it’s a sop to the families. The police couldn’t care less about the families, really.

    The inquiry is being called because it will call attention away from the other issues the government doesn’t want the public to get riled up about. They’d rather have you hearing Pickton, Pickton, Pickton, than BC Rail government corruption, government corruption, government corruption. Oh wait, they put a ban on reporting most of that trial, didn’t they? (Read last sentence with sarcasm.)

    An inquiry will consume column inches and TV broadcast minutes. It’s “Bread and Circuses” I’m afraid. That’s what we’re being “treated” to here in BC now.

    Does no one else notice the preoccupation with crime in the media? The Victoria Times-Colonist hardly goes a day without some blaring headline about a murder, even if it’s two years old.

    Just keep ’em entertained, so they don’t start to get too suspicious about what their government is up to.

    The other reason politicians will love this is that an inquiry will give the impression that they are doing something, and it will give them a chance to pontificate from their soapboxes with platitudes –– all the while knowing that the end result will be NOTHING.

    That’s been the joke of public inquiries in Canada for the last decade or so. Look at Mulroney – not only did he not receive any punishment whatsoever, he got to keep the $2 million he sued the government for (even though it was shown he lied about that too).

    You’ll likely take flak for this Harvey, but you hit the nail on the head. Also, I like your alternatives to an inquiry.

    I thank you for this courageous piece.

    (Response: I think the police do care NOW about the families …but remember, it’s not police who decide if theres’ a full inquiry: it’s the provincial government. Perhaps that will help see my point about the political reasons behind appealing to the families and maybe even wider native community. Could win votes ..even if it costs millions of dollars and in the end yields almost nothing new. h.o)

  3. Gary E says:

    Good morning Harvey

    Your suggestion to put inquiry money to better use is admirable. However, when you have a Federal Government that absolutely refuses to recognize that a simple thing like clean needles is a harm reduction effort, or a provincial government that will, I allege, use that money to pay for their past misuse of our tax dollars, we have a lose lose situation.
    Your suggestion to have these various departments in a room together is a good one. But let’s not have the government involved in the way it is done. A prime example of their white washing is in the Sockeye Commission.
    I think a locked door policy is also out because the families and the public need to see any progress.
    Just some thoughts.

    (Response: I agree the public has the right to see and understand exactly what went wrong … but sometimes, when individual personnel are being discussed, a behind closed door session might be useful. The needle exchange discussion in this case is a red herring…. let’s keep it to consideration of what went wrong with police actions ..or lack of them. h.o)

  4. sunshine coast girl says:

    If they really cared about these women, they would legalize and license prostitutes and provide them safe places to work. What, do they think it is going away sometime? They need to stop burying their heads in the sand and take some action to protect these women (and men).

    (Response: I can agree with that. But, of course, the real problem is addiction: we should do a lot more to deal with that …and that’s why I beleive the many millions of dollars a public inquiry would eat up could be put to better use on the wider problem. h.o)

  5. Leah says:

    SCG, we need to be careful about legalizing prostitution lest we end up like Germany – they legalized prostitution in 2002.

    Under Germany’s welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job — including in the sex industry — or lose her unemployment benefit. “There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry,” said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specializes in such cases. “The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits.”

    Sometimes we really do need to be very careful of what we wish for, lest it be granted. Especially with the likes of the Harper/Campbell governments at the helm.

  6. Norm Farrell says:

    Your third paragraph summarizes the situation accurately and quite completely. There is rather little left to say. Instead of spending $15 million to expand your paragraph into a 200 page report that essentially says the same thing, spend the extra money on resolving issues.

    Look at the attention paid to a single murdered woman in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on Vancouver’s wealthy west side. Compare that to the responses for the 60 or more missing women who lived on the margins of the DTE.

    Society has rejected and neglected the impoverished and the addicted. We know that, an inquiry isn’t needed to confirm. What we need is a plan of action.

    (Response: Actually, I’ve told the story before on the blog and Allan Garr once mentioned it in a column: I was one of the first, before it all became big news, who asked the questions at a press conference attended by the Mayor and Police Chief …”How can so many women be missing and yet there was no huge task force or massive publicity warnings about what was going on? Was it because so many of the women were native and not from the West side?” So I deeply care about the mistakes that quite apparently were made. But better to spend the $$$ on helping those still out there …than just rehashing for the upteenth time what I’m sure police and other authorities already know. h,.o)

  7. Kim says:

    Just a thought, not one word uttered here about the Highway of Tears, between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Why? Is it because nobody wants to admit that the victimization of women in our society is not only systemic by organized crime and psychopath’s, but top down?

    There was an immigration judge just last week fired for trading sexual favours for citizenship. How many priests availed themselves of their positions of authority to victimize children? How many judges?

    There’s an RCMP officer currently being paid to not show up for work in Shawnigan Lake for luring girls for sex over the internet while on duty.

    There is a culture of non disclosure of systemic abuse by the powerful on the marginalised. I get frustrated when people allow this issue to be narrowed to one neighbourhood (especially the news hungry DTES) because it ignores the main problem, which is poverty. That problem doesn’t miraculously disappear when you leave the DTES. Just sayin’.

    (Response: I agree the Highway of Tears murders remains very troubling. You were also right in looking to the past , but I dont think that TODAY there is a system of “non disclosure of systemic abuse by the powerful on the marginalised”. Otherwise how would we all know and hear very much about the cases you mention? To the contrary I think today, as soon as the public and the media get wind of any abusive situation involving people in a “top” position, we’re all right on it. h.o)

  8. Lynn says:

    You must be a 2nd year student a msm journalism skool.
    Or you are related to sum1 at the pab.
    Or you must b weally young.
    Harvey was and still is one of the best journalists. He does something most journalist don’t du. Think. Stik round, kid. U just mite learn sum thing.

    (Response: LOL! Thanks Lynn. You made my day. She can’t possibly be a journalism student: one of the first things they learn is to do research before publishing and she clearly didn’t check out either the “About Me” right on this site …or check out my biog in Wikipedia. But I don’t mind her critique of style ..it was an akward sentence. But I think the point I was making was understood by most … which is the most important goal in writing. h.o)

  9. Kim says:

    We do see more grammatical and spelling mistakes on the internet. Most of us try to proofread and weed out mistakes, but they happen. I think the interaction afforded on the blog is worth looking past occasional errors. Who can afford an editor?

    I can’t say I agree with your response HO about systemic abuse. I’ve seen too many instances this past couple of years where police have blatantly crossed the line of reasonable force into brutality. It’s a long way from the friendly officer in scarlet we were brought up to respect and trust.

    I do agree with you on spending money to alleviate the core problems that land people on skid row rather than throwing money at useless naval gazing. I maintain that the core problem remains poverty. It comes into play from birth. Nutrition, education, mental health, self worth.

    The problems with the paramilitary style of policing is a much larger issue and it needs to be changed from the RCMP on down.

    (Response; The grammatical question is an interesting. Many people are terrible spellers … but I don’t normally correct it for two reasons: first, I don’t want to be “changing” anything anyone writes unless it is rude, swearing or possibly libellous; secondly, I want to encourage as many people as possible to join the discourse, and as long as we can all understand their point, we shouldn’t fret over their spelling or grammar. h.o)

  10. More C says:

    So Harv, do you feel the same way in light of the evidence recently disclosed from the publication ban? He was known to polic as early as 1997 after an attempted murder of a prostitute. Nothing came of that charge.

    (Response: Absolutely. It makes my point ..we (and the police) already know how things were screwed up. What would tens of millions of dollars on an inquiry add? Very, very little. As for the case you mention ..the truth is the prosecutors were probably right, given our current court system: a highly unstable drug addicted victim who might or might not even show up and would be torn apart on the stand by the defense, likely would NOT have resulted in a conviction. Blame the court system …not the Crown on that one. h.o)

  11. Norm Farrell says:

    The new disclosures and the arguments of the BC Civil Liberties Association convince me that an Inquiry is necessary. Campbell said an Inquiry would be called after the VPD released their comprehensive report. The VPD said that report would be issued after an Inquiry is called.

    Former AG Oppal says that government doesn’t much like public inquiries because, “They are so hard to control.” Yeah, especially true when the Pickton case involves so many inadequate social policies and dreadful performances of police and prosecutors.

    (Response: The ultimate goal should be to ensure the massive mistakes made in this case are not repeated. I believe police, social agencies and government already know enough to clean up their act. Whether they actually do will depend on improvements to their processes and attention to facts …and no inquiry will be able to ensure that actualy happens any more than current knowledge will. h..o)

  12. Norm Farrell says:

    The VPD shows distinct improvement in its management but the RCMP remains as dysfunctional as ever. Additionally, we’ve seen new evidence that police have not learned how to work cooperatively. Good evidence by former VPD officer Bob Cooper here:


    I believe that Thomas Braidwood and his counsel Art Vertlieb showed how effective an official inquiry can be. By steady and determined effort and scrupulous fairness, they opened that sad wound to the sunshine.

    The rush to speak against an Inquiry will be from those who don’t want to be held accountable. Former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen is an example. Police Chief Jamie Graham is another and one must include the entire CJB which has failed miserably repeatedly and fought accountability right to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Even the VPD needs further improvement. Those three swaggering bullies caught on tape intimidating all they encountered and shoving a handicapped woman to the street is symbolic of the same sort of disrespect that led to dozens of murdered women before the police even admitted the possibility of a serial killer.

    Go back to the Inspector Kim Rosmo affair to show how tightly the blue line draws itself when others criticize. Rosmo knew there was a serial murderer but he was held to be disloyal for saying that out loud.

  13. Crankypants says:

    I think that we need a public enquiry of how our Crown Prosecutors make the decisions they do. I get the impression that they are more concerned about their batting average than they are about seeing justice is served.

    Think about it. This woman that survived an encounter with Pickton was considered unreliable as a witness, and therefore denied justice. Yes, she was a drug addict and probably a prostitute, but she was also a victim. From this information I glean that if a person with less than a stellar lifestyle gets wronged, they should just suck it up and move on. Does this not make all drug addicts, and such, fair game for any deviant to do whatever they want without fear of retribution from the law. After all, they cannot testify on their own behalf because their lifestyle is questionable and therefore whatever they say is unreliable.

    Have we now entered the realm of selective justice where only certain segments of society count and the less fortunate can just go and pound salt? Maybe if those at the top of the justice food chain did their job as it should be done, the boys in blue would be more willing to do theirs as well.

    (Response: I believe the concern with her was that she or her story or memory would hold up on the stand, especially under cross-examination, and in this era where getting convictions is so difficult, he would have beat the charge. Not saying I agree, but that was the reasoning. h.o)

  14. Max Stelmacker says:

    An inquiry is necessary and vital to the publics interest because of the scope of the loss of life involved.

    VICLASS is a software system designed by Kim Rossmo that is used around the world by detectives and police agencies.

    It may be important to first learn that Mr Rossmo was ostracized and demoted for his invention and beyond the spectacle of curiosity, it may be interesting to learn why.

    Meantime, going back to the early 40,50s and early 60’s, VPD has been rife with scandal. Very sordid indeed, associating and taking bribes from mobsters.

    With our proximity as a gateway to SEA, it may be important to learn why we need to bolster ourselves against a resurgence of crime and stop making BC and Vancouver a place to come and operate.

    An inquiry may serve this interest and allow room for incremental change and foster a public trust in the police that can help them realize some of their goals: protect and serve.

  15. Max S says:

    Private: Not bad writing btw Harvey for a TV news guy I’d say you do pretty good.

    This comment comes to mind post-haste as I view my own written comment. I give my self a c-.

    (Response: All comments, unless rude or libellous, deserve an A, for particiapting in the dialogue and keeping issues before the public. As for me, some may know, I was a print reporter for 12 years before BCTV made me an offer I could not refuse. Turned out to be the best professional decision I ever made. 🙂 h.o

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