RCMP investigating claims it waited years before searching Pickton farm
The RCMP is reviewing explosive claims that its members could have acted much sooner in obtaining a search warrant that may have stopped Robert Pickton’s murder spree years earlier.
The allegations, by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, once the high-profile RCMP spokesperson for the Pickton and Air India investigations, were first revealed in a story in Maclean’s Nov. 28 issue, A Royal Canadian Disgrace. The story was based on interviews with Galliford, and on the 115-page transcript of a statement she gave senior RCMP officers in April.
In that statement and subsequent interviews, Galliford said she had been subjected to years of sexual and emotional harassment by several senior officers and colleagues. She also blamed sexism and misogyny within the force for contributing to the “indifference” with which she said the RCMP investigated allegations that sex trade workers were disappearing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Many of those women were killed on Pickton’s farm in Port Coquitlam.
“The RCMP has received a statement from Cpl. Galliford,” RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said in a statement. “The statement contains a number of allegations of member misconduct that are of serious concern to the RCMP.” Thiessen, a spokesman for B.C.’s E-Division headquarters, said the RCMP has “initiated a review of these allegations and will take appropriate action to address them.”
He said it would be inappropriate to comment further on Galliford’s allegations relating to the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, a judicial hearing now being conducted into the conduct of both the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP during the Pickton investigation.
Galliford, reached at home where she is on extended sick leave, said she has had no new contact with the RCMP, beyond the extensive statement she gave them in April. She said her lawyer has advised her to curtail all media interviews and let any review take its course.
In previous interviews with Maclean’s she said that, back in Oct. 2001, she read a file on Pickton that the Coquitlam RCMP had compiled between 1997 and 1999, as she gathered background for her role as spokeswoman for the Missing Women’s Taskforce. “I had one of those ‘oh, no’ moments because I saw what was already on the file. There was enough evidence there for another ITO (information to obtain a search warrant),” she said.
Police had previously been on the Pickton farm to investigate a near-fatal altercation Pickton had with a sex trade worker in 1997. That woman was stabbed several times, as was Pickton. He was initially charged with attempted murder in that case, but it did not proceed after the Crown concluded she was not a credible witness, and because Pickton was also wounded when the woman fought back..
Galliford said there had only been a cursory attempt at surveillance of Pickton although he was a rumoured suspect in the missing women’s case. Surveillance ended after about two weeks because it was impossible to see activity at Pickton’s trailer, which was set far back from the road, she was told. She said a senior officer took no further action on the file, an “appalling” lapse of judgement in her view. Galliford said she intends to testify at the missing women’s inquiry on behalf of the murdered women and their families.
Galliford’s claims are backed by Cameron Ward, the Vancouver lawyer representing at the inquiry many of the families of Pickton’s victims. He told Maclean’s that testimony that has come up earlier in the inquiry and other information he’s gathered, backs her claims that there was ample information in RCMP hands to get judicial approval for a search warrant as early as 1999.
By Ward’s estimate, about 14 women, all actual or suspected victims of Pickton’s, were killed in the intervening time from 1999 until Pickton’s property was searched and he was arrested in February, 2002.
He said he has spoken with Galliford and “it is my hope and expectation” that she will be called to testify at the missing women’s inquiry.
Meantime, other RCMP members are stepping forward with their own claims of emotional and sexual harassment, emboldened by Galliford’s public stand on the issue. Both public and a RCMP members-only support pages have been established on Facebook to support Galliford and to vent their own frustrations.
“I can tell you for a fact the public would be very surprised and shocked to know just how rampant this issue is among the RCMP,” one female member wrote on Facebook. “Many of my female friends who are members feel the exact same way as I, and have been mistreated by their employer as well. We will only speak these words in the locker room though because we feel there is nowhere to turn. Upper management have a very ignorant view on what is appropriate or fair when it comes to female members. We are still living in the caveman days as far as I’m concerned.”
Another former member of the force in the 1980s wrote that as a “naive 22-year-old” she thought she had to accept the abuse as the price of being accepted by the group. “Nothing has changed in all these years. This allegation does not surprise me and I have so much respect for Catherine Galliford for coming out; however my opinion is it will never be safe for her to return to active duty now.”
Another former member in Ontario approached Maclean’s on behalf of several other women, all with stories of harassment. In the end, they decided they could not go public because of fears it would lead to reprimands, or would further damage their careers.
Newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Rob Paulson has said that rooting out sexism and harassment are among his first priorities, but it’s clear many female members still fear an “old boys’ network” will make their lives a misery if they come forward.
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