VANCOUVER – The children of four women whose remains were found on Robert Pickton’s property have filed lawsuits against the police and Pickton himself, demanding compensation for the failed murder investigation and a chance to confront the serial killer in court.
The daughters and sons of Dianne Rock, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks and Yvonne Boen each filed separate lawsuits Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court, targeting the provincial government on behalf of the RCMP, the City of Vancouver on behalf the city’s police force, a number of police officers, Pickton, and two of his siblings.
The statements of claim allege numerous failures on the part of Vancouver police and the RCMP, including that both forces botched their investigations into dozens of missing sex workers from the Downtown Eastside and failed to warn women in the neighbourhood that a serial killer was likely targeting women in the area. In addition, the statements say the Crown failed to prosecute Pickton for attempted murder after an attack on a sex worker in 1997, putting other women in danger.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
After Pickton lost his appeals for those convictions, charges related to 20 other women, including Rock, de Vries and Feliks, were stayed by the Crown. Boen is among six women whose remains or DNA were found on the Pickton property but for which no charges were ever laid.
Boen’s and Feliks’ children allege they were harmed by the insensitive manner in which they were informed of their mother’s deaths. Boen’s children say the first they heard of their mother’s death was in news reports. Feliks’ daughter says at first she was only told police had found her mother’s DNA on the farm, but she didn’t learn until much later that Feliks’ DNA had been found in packaged meat in a freezer.
The lawsuits also target Pickton’s brother and sister, David and Linda — David for allegedly lying for his brother during the attempted murder investigation in 1997 and both for allowing the killings to happen on a property they owned together with Robert.
The statements of claim, which contain unproven allegations, borrow heavily from a public inquiry report released last December, which outlined a litany of devastating failures within both the Vancouver police and the RCMP and recommended compensation for the children of Pickton’s victims.
“The VPD and RCMP owed and breached a duty of care to Yvonne, as a member of the public and as an individual within a group at heightened risk of harm from a serial killer and at heightened risk of harm from Robert Pickton to warn Yvonne of the risk to her safety,” says the statement of claim filed by Boen’s two sons, Tory and Joel.
“Notwithstanding their knowledge of the risk to sex workers, VPD and RCMP failed to assign adequate or sufficient resources to investigate Robert Pickton or a serial killer or to protect Yvonne or the other missing women.”
The Vancouver police, the City of Vancouver and the RCMP each declined to comment. The Vancouver police and the RCMP have each offered public apologies for their failure to catch Pickton earlier.
B.C.’s Justice Ministry provided a statement detailing its response to a public inquiry but did not respond to the lawsuit. A lawyer who represented the Picktons in an unrelated lawsuit involving their property couldn’t be reached.
David Pickton, reached by phone, interrupted a reporter reading the allegations that he lied for his brother.
“What?” Pickton said. “I don’t know nothing about it, no comment,” he continued, before hanging up.
Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing the family members, said in addition to financial compensation, the case could also provide the families with a chance to force Pickton to answer for his crimes. Pickton has repeatedly denied any involvement, despite the mountain of evidence against him.
“Unlike the criminal context, where Pickton has the right to remain silent, in the civil context there is no right to silence, and Robert Pickton will have to answer for his crimes,” Gratl said in an interview.
The public inquiry spent months hearing evidence detailing why the police failed to act as women in the Downtown Eastside disappeared in alarming numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Commissioner Wally Oppal released a report last December that made 63 recommendations, including financial compensation for children of the missing women and a “healing fund” for the women’s families.
Gratl said the provincial government, the City of Vancouver, the RCMP and the Vancouver police have all failed to take any steps to address the issue of compensation.
“The city and the province have allowed Mr. Oppal’s recommendation for compensation for children of the missing women to languish,” said Gratl.
“The lawsuit aims to provide the city and the province with yet another opportunity to do the right thing and provide these children with a leg up.”
The lawsuits, and the complaints that the province has failed to address the issue of compensation, come in the midst of a provincial election campaign that has so far paid little attention to the issue of missing women and Oppal’s recommendations.
The governing Liberals and the Opposition New Democrats have each said they would address Oppal’s recommendations, but have not provided any specifics. When asked directly about the compensation issue on Thursday, each party leader offered only vague answers.
Liberal Premier Christy Clark said she hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on a case that’s before the courts. She noted her government appointed former lieutenant governor Stephen Point to oversee the province’s response to Oppal’s report.
“We’ll get a chance to look at some of those issues (after the election),” Clark said at a campaign stop in the northern B.C. Community of Burns Lake.
“It was a terrible tragedy, not just for the women and their families, but for all of us in such a wealthy society to think that women who were so vulnerable were left unsafe.”
Clark’s attorney general, Shirley Bond, referred comment back to the Justice Ministry. The ministry provided a statement that outlined several things the government has done to respond to Oppal’s report without referring to the issue of compensation.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix, likewise, had no specifics to offer, largely ignoring the compensation issue when asked about it in Vancouver.
“Our intention is to work with the families to see the report implemented,” Dix said in Vancouver.
“There is a series of things the families want — those are only part (of the report). I think the recommendations in that report are very good and we need to work to implement them and we will.”
Pickton was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton’s property in Port Coquitlam. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed a total of 49.
— With files from Vivian Luk in Vancouver and Dene Moore in Burns Lake, B.C.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said Robert Pickton was convicted of first-degree murder.