Some of the women who went missing from the Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Robert Pickton was convicted of killing six of them but claimed to undercover police he killed 48.

Muddled inquiry new blow to families of missing women

Doubts hang over probe into serial killer Pickton's slaying spree

Months ago, the National Parole Board promised to notify Ernie Crey if serial killer Robert Pickton is transferred between prisons for any reason.

Now the feds have retracted the offer by way of a letter to Crey, whose sister is thought to have been slaughtered on Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm.

The Sto:lo elder and frequent spokesman for the victims’ families was told he doesn’t automatically qualify for notifications because Dawn Crey wasn’t among the six missing women Pickton was actually convicted of murdering.

“It’s upsetting,” Crey said, calling the error a combination of insensitivity and incompetence.

He’s not sure if the same treatment befell families of the other 20 murdered women, whose charges never went to trial, or if it was limited to the third set of suspected victims like his sister, where charges were never laid despite DNA that placed her on the farm.

“We’ve had missteps like this all along the way,” Crey said.

It comes as multiple critics accuse the provincial government of bungling the Missing Women Inquiry, which is itself supposed to probe the litany of police errors that let Pickton prey on vulnerable women for so long before his 2002 arrest.

Victoria refused to provide an extra $1.5 million so women and First Nations groups can have legal representation and fully participate in the upcoming hearings.

Several groups vowed to boycott the inquiry after they were denied legal funding.

“We have no confidence that it will be able to produce a fair and balanced report,” said Corbiere Lavell, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which wants a national inquiry.

She said Victoria has created a flawed and one-sided inquiry by limiting legal funding mainly to police and government members who are called to testify.

Critics say counselllors, support workers and others close to the Downtown Eastside’s vulnerable women will be underequipped to put hard questions to well-defended police and government reps who might have had the power to stop Pickton.

Inquiry head and former attorney general Wally Oppal agreed and pressed hard for more money.

Last week, he gave up and the inquiry reshuffled its budget to free up a smaller amount of cash to hire a team of four lawyers to represent the 12 unfunded groups.

Inquiry executive director John Boddie said the commission was concerned “the critics of the actions of the government and the police may be silenced.”

It’s not yet clear if those who walked away from the inquiry will return.

Also initially denied funding was Vancouver Police Department officer and profiling expert Kim Rossmo, whose early warnings to his superiors that a serial killer was at work went unheeded.

Boddie said the province indicated it may pay for a lawyer for Rossmo, who refuses to participate without one.

Lawyers are being provided for the families of the missing women.

The changes don’t yet instill confidence in Crey.

“I think what we’re seeing is the unravelling of the inquiry right before our eyes,” he said.

That would be a bitter blow for both Crey – who campaigned for the inquiry – and for other families and friends who struggled for years to get Vancouver police to take the disappearances of sex-trade workers seriously.

The long quest for justice hasn’t been cheap.

The province spent more than $100 million on the police investigation, Pickton’s prosecution, his high-powered defence and other court costs, while the inquiry was expected to cost up to $5 million.

Premier Christy Clark indicated she didn’t want to see more funding go to lawyers, rather than other aid for the embattled justice system, which is short judges, sheriffs and other staff.

Crey said he sees little evidence money is going to those priorities, but noted Victoria is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects like the new roof for BC Place, which is visible from the Downtown Eastside.

“I’ve gone beyond frustration,” Crey said. “The whole thing has become disgraceful.”

The inquiry will hold forums in nine northern B.C. communities Sept. 12-22 and begin formal hearings in Vancouver on Oct. 11.