Families who tried to file missing-persons reports in the case of serial killer Robert Pickton faced difficulty when they approached police in the midst of a probe plagued by mistakes, says a scathing internal report on the investigation.
The report says inappropriate conduct by staff members, notably by one civilian, "poisoned" the relationship between police and relatives of women who'd gone missing from the Downtown Eastside.
"To the detriment of the (Vancouver Police Department) as a whole, there were several reported instances where families of sex trade workers attempted to report their daughters as missing and were treated badly," the report says.
The report, written by Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard and released Friday, says a homicide sergeant submitted a report in 1998 saying police received complaints from people who were "rebuffed by staff."
The sergeant also said frustrated relatives felt the department didn't care about their missing loved ones because they were first nations or from a poor neighbourhood.
Hours after the release of the report, acting British Columbia solicitor-general Rich Coleman promised the provincial government will launch a public review of the police investigation.
Chief Constable LePard said Saturday that such inappropriate behaviour by some staff, especially a civilian clerk who worked at the Missing Persons Unit from 1995 to 2001, was part of a multitude of problems that derailed the Pickton investigation.
"We've learned from the missing-women's investigation about the things that we need to do to remove the barriers to people feeling comfortable dealing with police," he said.
"We heard loud and clear, 'Look, back then we didn't feel like we could make a report, that it wasn't going to be taken seriously,'" he said.
Mr. Pickton was eventually arrested in 2002, but by then 13 more women had been reported missing and DNA from 11 women was found on his suburban Port Coquitlam farm.
In 2007, the predator who targeted drug-addicted sex workers was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors said they will not proceed with charges in the slayings of 20 more women, because convictions wouldn't mean more prison time for Mr. Pickton, who is serving a life sentence.
Chief Constable LePard's report says one detective complained that he sometimes had to leave the room when the clerk in the missing-persons unit spoke on the phone.
He said in the report that another officer was concerned about allowing a civilian to manage missing-persons investigations and said the practice was not in the best interest of the department.
The report blames both the city's force and the RCMP for a series of errors in the years that preceded Pickton's arrest and made it clear he could have been caught earlier than 2002.
"There were individuals who made mistakes and didn't perform well," Chief Constable LePard said Saturday. "There was no one single cause of the problems in this investigation," he said.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn's DNA was found on Mr. Pickton's property, said he heard plenty of talk about the clerk referred to in the report from other family members searching in vain for their missing relatives.
"I'd heard there was an obnoxious woman who was taking information from family members," he said.
"The families who were going (to police) were full of stress and they're looking for news about a missing family member," he said.
Chief Constable LePard said police have since beefed up resources to deal with missing persons files and assigned officers to deal with sex workers and the homeless in the Downtown Eastside.
He said that after the report was released Friday, he and other senior officers, including Police Chief Jim Chu, held two meetings with advocates and first nations groups in the area to talk about how bias in the department affected families and the improvements that have been made since then.