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Pickton victims' families cautious but hopeful for change following inquiry

VANCOUVER - Families of women believed murdered by serial-killer Robert Pickton welcomed the massive inquiry report into the police bungling that allowed the pig farmer to continue killing, saying wearily they hope it will lead to positive change.
Cee Jai Julian, left, cries as as Commissioner Wally Oppal (background) delivers his final report on the findings of the Missing Women Commission in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, December, 17, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - Families of women believed murdered by serial-killer Robert Pickton welcomed the massive inquiry report into the police bungling that allowed the pig farmer to continue killing, saying wearily they hope it will lead to positive change.

Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Cara Ellis's remains were found on Pickton's farm, said Monday she was impressed with Commissioner Wally Oppal's thoroughness, but said she also thinks he wasn't able to see the whole picture because of the limitations in his mandate.

"It's a baby step, but at least we're moving in the right direction," she said.

"At some point in time, in order for the families to start healing, we have to trust someone. Do I think it's going to change overnight? No."

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of the murder of six women, while charges involving 20 others were stayed. The remains of a further seven women were found on his farm.

Ernie Crey said he, too, was "deeply impressed" with the report. Crey's sister's DNA was found on the Pickton farm.

He acknowledged the inquiry process had shortcomings and many groups remain angry that they were left out.

But he added, "It really boils down to, what do we do about it? I'd rather spend my time doing concrete things today and tomorrow and the day after that than just being critical and not participating in the process.

"We need to work with what we have."

But if the families were cautious in their support for the inquiry report, other players in the long-running story were sombre, some were contrite and others were terse.

Attorney General Shirley Bond was overcome with emotion as she noted her government will be moving immediately on some of the recommendations.

"It is my ardent hope that British Columbia never has another chapter like this in its history," Bond said, fighting back tears.

"Anyone who begins to read the report will know how difficult it is ... It's almost impossible to imagine that could have happened in the province of British Columbia."

In keeping with Oppal's recommendations, Bond said her government will give an extra $750,000 to the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, which provides services to women involved in the sex trade. As well, former lieutenant governor Stephen Point, an aboriginal, has been given the job of guiding the government's response to the recommendations.

NDP attorney general critic Leonard Krog said the report is a "very sad comment."

"No British Columbians today can take pride in what this report reveals about our society," he said.

"The police involved, I would hope, have learned a very serious and sad lesson."

Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu said his force has and is committed to learning from its mistakes.

"We know that nothing can ever truly heal the wounds of grief and loss, but if we can, we want to assure the families that the Vancouver Police Department deeply regrets anything we did that may have delayed the eventual solving of these murders."

Chu issued a statement saying the force has already taken measures to ensure the same errors are not made again, including completely overhauling the missing-persons unit and its outreach programs.

Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C., also re-stated his force's regret at the deaths.

However, he noted the force is still digesting the report and declined to take questions.

"As a commanding officer, I wish to convey to you that the RCMP welcomes today's report," he said.

"Policing is constantly evolving, and on an ongoing basis it is necessary for us to look critically at how we deliver policing services to ensure that we respond effectively to our community's needs and expectations."

Oppal's report did little to quiet those voices strongly opposed to the inquiry's composition from the outset.

They have argued repeatedly the inquiry's limited terms of reference and the refusal by the provincial government to pay for lawyers to represent sex-trade workers and aboriginal women's organizations doomed the inquiry.

The groups re-iterated their call Monday for a national public inquiry into the hundreds of murders and disappearances of aboriginal women and girls.

It's a call voiced by the Assembly of First Nations and one repeated by Human Rights Watch Monday and also by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Robertson said he has directed his city manager to immediately implement Oppal's recommendations involving Vancouver.

"It is my hope that inquiry recommendations are focused on real and lasting change — systemic changes that need to happen to keep young girls and women safe and prevent this tragedy from happening in the future," said Robertson.

"We need to remember that just because an inquiry is completed, it does not mean action is taken."

Robertson also noted he has supported the notion of a regional police force in the past and welcomed Oppal's recommendation that the political barriers standing in the way finally be broken down and such a force be implemented.

Prof. Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and a long-time advocate for regional policing, said until now, the provincial government has been unwilling to move ahead with such an initiative.

Indeed, Bond refused to comment on the recommendation at her news conference following the release of Oppal's report.

"Unfortunately, it's taken a serial murderer like Pickton to really fire this one up and for people to see the absurdity of the policing system that we have," said Gordon.