A dozen years after the fact, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has apologized for the federal police’s role in botching the investigation against serial killer Robert Pickton back in the early 2000s.
One of Canada’s top mounties apologized on January 27 for the force’s failure to catch Pickton sooner. Many of Pickton’s victims were aboriginal women.
"On behalf of the RCMP, I'm sorry we didn't do more," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in Vancouver. He made the announcement at a press conference, saying that the idea of an apology was brought to his attention during the RCMP's testimony at the inquiry.
Pickton was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for killing six women at his pig farm in Port Coquitlam. He once confided to an undercover police officer that he killed 49. He was facing another trial for the murder of 20 more women, but prosecutors didn’t proceed after Pickton lost all six appeals.
Callens said he has not approached the families of Pickton's victims to apologize in person and hasn’t scheduled any meetings.
The Vancouver Police Department issued its own apology last year. But this is the first time the RCMP has apologized for the role its shortcomings played in the investigation.
Police found the remains or DNA of 33 women on Pickton’s farm.
In 2004, police visited Cheam tribal member Ernie Crey and told him his sister Dawn’s DNA had been discovered on a garment discovered inside Pickton’s trailer. Her remains were never found. On January 27 Crey said he felt cautious optimism at the RCMP’s apology.
“But I have to wonder if there were any family members present when they did it,” he said, adding that the police should take it a step further and apologize directly to the families. “I don’t think there’s a reason for them to be fearful of that, and it’s something I would strongly encourage them to do.”
With the inquiry in full swing, Crey said he had already started thinking about what lies beyond it—knowing that the families, the police and the justice department must craft new relationships to replace the ones now fraught with anger and suspicion.
Aside from Pickton’s misdeeds are the legions of aboriginal women—more than 700, according to some reports—who have gone missing over the past 20 or so years, their disappearances or murders unsolved. There has been much public outcry over the lack of resolution to the cases, with the United Nations getting involved as well.
The inquiry was commissioned in 2010 and is headed by former B.C. judge Wally Oppal. Its mandate is to examine why Pickton wasn’t arrested before 2002. One of the goals is to identify the underlying attitudes that hampered not only this investigation but also others, in hopes of rectifying the attitudes and redirecting police efforts.
As the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton’s activities unfolded ever so slowly back in 2000, police almost had a bead on him—so much so that at least one of them foresaw a potential inquiry down the road.
"Also discussed Pickton again-->if he turns out to be responsible-->inquiry!-->Deal with that if the time comes!" Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) staff sergeant Brad Zalys jotted in his notebook after a conversation with RCMP Inspector Earl Moulton, one of his superiors.
It was April 25, 2000, the National Post reported on January 21, 2012, and Pickton was a prime suspect. With dozens of women missing, 23 more slated to disappear, the police now admit they were dropping the ball.
“I know I don’t want to stay perpetually angry with the RCMP,” Crey said after the apology. “I’m disappointed with how they handled the investigation, but there has to be a new relationship.”
Police officers who testified at the inquiry said that they are already taking steps in that direction, Crey said. “But I’d like to hear about that from them and not just from their testimony on the stand.”