Saturday, August 28, 2010

Government shouldn't set terms of Pickton inquiry

Ernie Crey's sister was murdered after Robert Pickton should have been caught.
He wants an independent inquiry. And he doesn't want the government to control the questions the inquiry asks or how it is structured.
"Should it all fall to the government to decide what those terms of reference are?" Crey told the Times Colonist in a story here. "Like Michael de Jong and a bunch of lawyers on his staff and some cops? No, it shouldn't.
"And if that were the case, that's what would heighten the level the suspicion. People would lose confidence [in] an inquiry of that nature."
It makes sense. The government's role should be the subject of an inquiry. It would create a perception of bias to have it set the terms of reference and place some areas off limits - like prosecutors' 1998 decision to stay an attempted murder charge for an attack on a woman. The government should name a panel - perhaps a retired judge, a First Nations representative. the Children's Representative and the Police Complaints Commissioner - to set up the inquiry and appoint a commissioner.
You also read a column by Lindsay Kines on Rich Coleman's response to the release of the Vancouver Police Department internal review of them Pickton investigation.
Coleman's dismissive comments were poorly informed and indicated the government had no plans to do a serious review of what wrong. They show, Kines writes, exactly why a fully independent inquiry is needed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Alberta oilsands boycotts bad news for B.C. tourism

Alberta's oilsands - and its government - are about to become a big problem for B.C.
Advocacy groups have targeted the energy megaprojects, pointing to environmental destruction and the big greenhouse-gas emissions involved in getting the sticky oil out of the ground.
And this summer, they dusted off one of their most effective tactics - a call for a tourism boycott.
That's bad news for B.C.'s tourist industry, already facing what managers like to call "challenges."
Consider this headline in The Guardian: "Think twice about visiting Canada until it abandons tar sands destruction."
I couldn't determine if the column appeared in the print edition of the British national newspaper or just online. It doesn't really matter: The newspaper claims about 1.2 million readers a day; the web version actually has more visitors.
Note the headline doesn't urge people to stay away from Alberta. Shun Canada, it says.
It wouldn't make much of a difference even if the distinction were made. I just finished an RV trip from Victoria through the mountains to Calgary, Drumheller and back.
Most of the people in the campgrounds and at the big attractions were from Canada. But there were visitors from Germany, England, Italy, Asia. Many weren't visiting Alberta. They were touring Canada's two western provinces.
If the boycott message is effective, some travellers will head to another destination
The campaign is a problem for B.C. And worse, it has no direct ability to manage the response.
Alberta has done a mediocre job so far.
That's typical. B.C. governments complained about the unfairness of international campaigns against old-growth logging, but were ineffectual in countering them.
Graham Thomson is an astute Edmonton Journal columnist who spent a year on fellowship learning about the oilsands and their impacts.
He gives the Alberta government poor grades for addressing the international criticism.
Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach has defended the oilsands and the companies. The environmental groups are stretching the truth, he says. Environmental rules are effective. The critics are wrong.
The denial response plays well in Alberta, Thomson writes. But it won't ease doubts about the oilsands around the world.
"The best way for the Alberta government and energy companies to win the public relations battle over environmental concerns is through actions, not more public relations battles," he wrote last month.

The problem - for Alberta and now B.C. - is that there are real concerns about the costs of extracting the oil given current technology.
The oilsands - or tarsands as they used to be called - have vast amounts of oil mixed with sand. To make money, the companies have to scoop up the sand and process it with boiling water or steam. The oil, or bitumen, a precursor, is separated and can be sent off by pipeline. The nasty waste is pumped into giant tailing ponds or underground. (Yes, this is grossly oversimplified.)
Generating all that hot water and steam means burning lots of natural gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found producing a barrel of oil from the Alberta sands resulted in 82 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average barrel produced in the U.S.
Which means the oil might be shunned in U.S. and state climate-change plans.
Then there's a federal parliamentary committee on the environment, which has been looking at the oilsands. MPs from the four parties couldn't agree on a report. Liberal MPs have released their version, which found the Alberta government has failed to protect water quality and the health of First Nations.
The boycott campaign - Rethink Alberta - includes billboards in the U.S. and England showing oil-soaked ducks in a tailing pond and calling Alberta "the other oil disaster," comparing it with BP's Gulf spill.
It might not be fair, but that doesn't matter. The campaigns work unless governments move quickly and effectively to make their case.
And unless they make real changes to address legitimate concerns.
Alberta isn't doing either. And the B.C. tourism industry will pay the price.
Footnote: In a move reminiscent of the campaign over B.C. logging practices, the anti-oilsands forces are also pressuring U.S. companies to shun oilsands-based energy. The drugstore chain Walgrens has said it will switch fuel suppliers to avoid the Alberta product. The Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss they'll look for non-oilsands energy.

Getting tough on crime means more dead women

Good Times Colonist column here on the latest wrinkle in the Conservatives' "get tough on crime" plans.
Running a bawdy house is now punishable by a sentence of up to two years; the government plans to impose a five-year minimum jail term.
Jody Paterson notes that the inevitable result would be to drive escorts and other sex-trade workers onto the streets — where Robert Pickton found his victims.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An ex-officer's perspective on the Pickton case

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver police officer who walked a beat, worked in the Asian organized crime section and the homicide squad.
He is not much optimistic about the promise of a review of the Pickton investigation promised by acting solicitor general Rich Coleman.
"Aside from the irony of a Liberal cabinet minister using the word ‘transparent’, it’s well known in law enforcement that as long as Gordon Campbell is premier the re-signing of the RCMP’s contract in 2012 is a foregone conclusion and Victoria doesn’t want anything rocking that boat. A ‘transparent review’ will take forever to set up and even longer to run its course. This scores the government political points for calling it and buys them time while allowing them to deflect any questions about the case."
I recommend reading the rest of his blog post here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pickton, ministers' willful blindness and dumping the RCMP

The Vancouver Police Department's internal review of the Robert Pickton investigation is grim reading.
Deputy chief Doug LePard sets out - over 400-plus pages - an unblinking look at the failures, mistakes and conflicts that allowed Pickton to keep on killing years after he should have been caught. Long enough, in fact, to have killed another 13 women.
The report was completed four years ago. It couldn't be released publicly then, as Pickton's jury trial wasn't concluded.
But the findings were so important, then Vancouver chief Jamie Graham tried to share the report with John Les, the solicitor general.
Les refused.
Last year, current Vancouver chief Jimmy Chu set out to alert the government once again. He offered Kash Heed, the solicitor general at the time, a copy of the report and a briefing.
Heed said no.
The ministers' almost identical responses said they didn't want to know about the report because the matter was before the courts.
That's ridiculous. Pickton's right to a fair trial would not be affected if the solicitor general, responsible for policing, read a report on problems with the investigation. There is nothing in the law or tradition that says government ministers must remain ignorant about serious public policy issues because a trial is underway.
Especially when their willful blindness puts the public at risk.
LePard's report sets out police missteps and failures. The Vancouver department was slow to take an interest in the reports that women were disappearing from Vancouver's rougher streets and refused to accept the evidence that serial killer was at work. Petty internal rivalries undermined efforts to investigate.
And the report concludes the fragmented policing structure in the Lower Mainland helped allow Pickton to keep killing. The victims were from Vancouver; the murders were on his farm in Coquitlam.
As evidence against Pickton increased, Vancouver police asked the Coquitlam RCMP to co-operate in a joint investigation. The Mounties said no.
The report found the RCMP detachment let the file languish for months and failed to move the investigation forward.
When the RCMP's provincial unsolved homicide unit became involved, its officers decided that the information from a key witness wasn't credible. But they had no reason for the decision, LePard notes. "Personalities or opinions about credibility without supporting evidence should never have derailed a murder investigation," he reports. "Neither that opinion nor the lack of resources in the Coquitlam RCMP detachment should have been sufficient to derail an investigation when the allegations were so serious."
The bizarre policing structure in the Lower Mainland - and in the capital region - have been identified as problems for years. Heed, as West Vancouver chief, called for a regional force to combat organized crime. (Les, as solicitor general, called Heed's boss, the mayor, to complain about the comments.)
Yet the government has resisted change. Surely, the report would have helped it make an informed policy decision.
At the same time, the government has been pushing ahead on a new 20-year contract with the RCMP for policing in the province. The current deal expires in 2012.
Again, surely the information in the report - which the ministers refused to read - should have been considered in that process.
The Vancouver police department review was released after Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines obtained a leaked copy. The government had hoped to stall release until next month. (Kines's work on the missing women with the Vancouver Sun and the Times Colonist has been an example of journalism at its best.)
That reporting forced acting Solicitor General Rich Coleman to promise some sort of review. The government had up until then refused to commit to an inquiry.
But Coleman dismissed the Vancouver police report as "finger-pointing." (Which suggests he could not have read it.)
It's just one side of the story, he said.
Perhaps the RCMP review of the investigation, completed eight years ago, does have other, useful information.
But it remains secret, which says much about the force's sense of its accountability to British Columbians.
Footnote: A shift away from the RCMP to a provincial force would be difficult. But the Mounties' problems have been well documented even before the failures in the Pickton investigation. Officers are employed, and rewarded or punished, by the national force, not by a provincial or municipal police department. They do not even accept the provincial police complaints process.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Campbell is likely to leave soon

Jordan Bateman is a Langley Township councillor and active Liberal party member. (He's president of Rich Coleman's riding association.)
So his suggestion that Gordon Campbell will announce his departure soon — perhaps before the party's November convention in Pentiction - is worth reading here.