VANCOUVER — A series of lawsuits filed by children of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton prompted the resignation of Steven Point, the former B.C. lieutenant governor appointed five months ago to implement recommendations from the public inquiry into the case.
The British Columbia government also warned its own work to fix the problems identified at the high-profile inquiry will also likely be hampered because of the lawsuit.
Point’s resignation drew an immediate rebuke from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the lawyer for the victims’ children who angrily rejected the suggestion that the lawsuits should have anything to do with Point’s position.
Point, who was appointed last December, said his resignation was prompted by the four lawsuits filed earlier this month by children of women whose remains or DNA were found on Pickton’s farm.
“Litigation has been commenced by certain family members of the victims of Pickton, and I have been served with documents that have put me on notice regarding this litigation,” Point wrote in a letter to Attorney General Shirley Bond, dated Friday.
Wally Oppal, a former judge and one-time attorney general, issued a report last December that found significant errors in how Vancouver police and the RCMP responded to reports of missing sex workers from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and blamed systemic bias against vulnerable women.
He made 63 recommendations, many focused on reforming police service in the province, as well as financial compensation for the children of missing women. The province asked Point to oversee the report’s implementation.
Earlier this month, the children of four women filed separate lawsuits against Pickton, his two siblings, the B.C. government and the City of Vancouver, seeking damages for the women’s deaths and the botched investigation that failed to prevent them. The province was named on behalf of the RCMP and the city was named on behalf of its police force.
Attorney General Shirley Bond released a statement Friday that said the “plaintiffs have put Mr. Point on notice” that his public comments could become evidence in the civil case. A ministry spokeswoman later clarified that the families sent Point a copy of the statements of claim, which he interpreted as having been “put on notice.”
A lawyer for the victims’ families, Jason Gratl, said they never suggested in any way that Point could be dragged into the civil case.
Although he didn’t want to be quoted, Gratl was clearly upset with what he perceived as an attempt to blame the children of the women for Point’s decision to resign.
Gratl confirmed he sent Point an email with copies of the lawsuits, but the email makes no mention of Point becoming a potential witness.
“I appreciate that neither of you are parties to the action,” Gratl wrote in an email to both Point and Oppal, dated May 8.
“But I thought you might be asked to comment on the claims at some point, and it might be of assistance to you if you had a chance to review them first,” the email stated.
Point, a former provincial court judge, could not be reached to further explain his resignation.
Bond also said the lawsuits could slow the province’s work to implement the report’s recommendations, though she did not explain why that would be the case or what specific work would be affected.
“Continuing to address the recommendations is very important to me personally and to our government, but we also need to ensure that as we do that we consider the impact of the litigation that is underway,” Bond said in a statement.
“That is exactly what we intend to do and move forward as soon as possible.”
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a joint news release criticizing Point’s resignation and the government’s suggestion that the lawsuits will prevent the province from implementing Oppal’s recommendations.
“It appears that the government is prepared to indefinitely stall or abandon this work,” Micheal Vonn, policy director of the civil liberties association, said in the news release.
“This is a terrible indicator of the state of the government’s commitment to women’s safety and equality. ”
Oppal, who spent months hearing evidence from police officers, sex workers, and the families of Pickton’s victims, said he was disappointed to hear about Point’s resignation.
“I know he was making progress on the report, because I met with him on a number of different occasions,” Oppal said in an interview Friday.
“Obviously, I am concerned because I wanted to see a speedy resolution as far as the recommendations of the report are concerned. ”
The lawsuits involve the daughters and sons of Dianne Rock, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks and Yvonne Boen. They were not among the six women Pickton was convicted of killing, but their remains or DNA were found on Pickton’s property following his arrest.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
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.