Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oppal a wretched choice for Pickton inquiry

The appointment of Wally Oppal to head the Pickton inquiry demonstrates this government's combination of arrogance and ineptitude.
Attorney General Mike de Jong announced details of the inquiry into the Pickton murders and the missing women this week.
Its excessively narrow mandate includes looking at the police investigation and the Crown's decision to stay attempted murder and other charges against Pickton in 1998.
The inquiry can also make recommendations for the way future missing women's investigations and homicide cases when multiple police departments are handled.
But not, however, on the broader issue of regionalized policing.
Oppal's appointment shows remarkably bad judgment.
He was a Liberal cabinet minister until he was defeated in last year's election. He supported the party's policies, including its rejection of the need for better co-ordinated policing in the Lower Mainland.
He worked with ministers who were in power as the Pickton investigation unfolded. As a cabinet minister, Oppal publicly rejected the idea that racism played a role in the missing women investigation, although many of Pickton's victims were aboriginal. As attorney general, he waged a legal battle to keep evidence from the inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, a native man who died after Vancouver police left him in an alley.
The appointment creates an instant and well-founded perception of bias.
De Jong brushed off the concerns. Oppal is a good man and independent by nature, he said. He's a former judge and conducted another on policing in 1994. So we picked him.
That's all fine. But it's also irrelevant.
Oppal's most recent job was serving as de Jong's predecessor as Liberal attorney general (with an unremarkable record).
The appearance of conflict of interest in his appointment is enough to undermine the inquiry's independence and credibility.
It is baffling how the government could not see - or not care - that Oppal's appointment would be greeted with suspicion.
The inquiry's narrow mandate is also a serious problem.
A Vancouver Police Department internal review of the Pickton investigation found serious problems within the department. But it also concluded that Pickton was able to keep on killing long after he should have been caught because of the fragmented policing structure on the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver police and RCMP detachments failed to share information or co-operate. The Mounties refused a request for a combined investigation. And the women kept dying.
But Oppal isn't allowed to look at the option of regional policing.
He's also not allowed to look at a wide range of other factors that might have helped Pickton - and others like him - kill women.
His victims were women on the margins. Many were aboriginal, poor, in the sex trade or addicted. Did that affect the police response? Did our laws around prostitution serve these women up as victims?
The inquiry won't answer those questions.
Admittedly, those issues would be difficult to deal with in a focused inquiry.
But the government's alternate plan for dealing with them is fuzzy. De Jong said he hoped the Native Women Association of Canada will hold a national conference in B.C. in 2011 on the broader concerns.
It appears to be an inadequate response to a serious problem.
De Jong doesn't appear to have consulted with families of the victims or the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which has sought an inquiry for years, on the terms of the inquiry or Oppal's appointment.
The government has the ultimate responsibility. But not consulting shows, again, arrogance and an unwillingness to consider that others might have useful contributions.
What can the Liberals be thinking?
It would seem they either didn't realize that naming Oppal - a Liberal cabinet minister not that long ago - to head an "independent" inquiry would be viewed with suspicion.
Or that they didn't care what the public thought.
We need to know how Pickton could kill so easily and for so long. We need to learn from this horrible case.
And the government has made a lousy effort to accomplish those goals.
Footnote: De Jong also said he would not delay negotiations on a new long-term contract with the RCMP - expected to be concluded next year - until Oppal reports. (His deadline is Dec, 31, 2011.) That suggest any recommendations on changes to policing or for mandated improved co-operation between RCMP detachments and municipal forces will be ignored.


kootcoot said...

"Oppal's most recent job was serving as de Jong's predecessor as Liberal attorney general (with an unremarkable record)."

I don't know, I think it was pretty remarkable - he must have set a record for repeating the words "No Comment - It's before the Courts." That is except when he had an opinion he couldn't keep to himself, before the courts or not.

Then there is his compulsive "prosecutor shopping," which unless I'm mistaken he still has to answer for in some kind of legal action.

An inquiry like the one announced (and the guy conducting it) isn't so much an inquiry as a whitewash, or more appropriately in this case - A STONEWALL!

This matter deserves a man of the calibre of Braidwood, who even within his artificially imposed limitations found ways to express his true findings - like how impressed he was with the honesty of the killing crew with their rehearsed testimony that made it seem like they were all reading from the same script - in spite of the existence of video evidence contradicting much of what they claimed. Of course without that video, we would all have to believe that the Big Polish guy attacked the police and they just had to kill him to protect themselves.

DPL said...

Your one sentence said it all. They simply don't care what the public thinks. Wally will hang around for as long as possible, come up with some statement that says little or nothing and it will then get put on a shelf somewhere . Its great to have friends that hire people to find just about nothing. It makes me sick

Anonymous said...

"This matter deserves a man of the calibre of Braidwood...

I'd like to believe that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was asked to lead the inquiry, but I doubt it.

Eminently qualified, an outsider to the goings-on, Metis, judicial background, and a keen interest in the subject. Plus, the Liberals would be able to move her out of the Rep's office. She, not Wally Oppal, should be leading this commission.

Anonymous said...

Another actions which demonstrates this government's contempt for the citizens of British Columbia.

Ed Seedhouse said...

I have no confidence that Opal will run a fair and unbiased enquiry and I am sure that the vast majority of British Columbians don't either

Anonymous said...

Agree with your sentiments Paul but don't you think that this was all staged when Ian Mulgrew of the Sun wrote about how wonderful Oppal was days before this was announced?

kootcoot said...

Wasn't it Stonewally who insisted recently an inquiry wasn't necessary. His appointment is akin to appointing (as Bush the Lesser did) John Bolton Ambassador the the UN after Bolton had publicly stated his opinion that the top few floors of the UN building should be blown off the building,in order to improve international relations.