Families of Robert Pickton’s victims brace for his ‘horrific’ day parole application eligibility

Click to play video: 'Families of Pickton victims protest day parole eligibility'
Families of Pickton victims protest day parole eligibility
Families of the victims of Robert Pickton are holding a candlelight vigil at the farm where their loved ones' remains were found. They are protesting the fact the serial killer can apply for day parole on Thursday. Angela Jung reports – Feb 21, 2024

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

It’s been more than 20 years since police raided the B.C. farm of one of Canada’s most prolific serial killers, but according to Palexelsiya Lorelei Williams, those painful decades have “flown by.”

Her cousin, Tanya Holyk, is among more than two dozen women who were murdered or suspected to have been murdered by Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert Pickton.

Now in his 70s, Pickton was charged with 26 murders in the deaths of women who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but only convicted of second-degree murder for six of them.

On Thursday, he becomes eligible to apply for day parole.

Click to play video: 'Legal battle fought over evidence from Robert Pickton trial'
Legal battle fought over evidence from Robert Pickton trial

“The fact that he can actually apply is horrific,” Williams said Wednesday, ahead of a candlelight vigil taking place by Pickton’s old farm on Wednesday night.

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“That threw me right off. I didn’t know and the other families that I’m close to didn’t know.”

On Wednesday evening, she was joined by dozens of friends and family members of victims at the former site of Pickton’s farm in Port Coquitlam, where they hung posters, flowers and red dresses in memory of their loved ones.

It’s extremely unlikely that Pickton would ever be released, but Williams — a fierce advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — said the mere fact that he can apply is “disgusting.”

“Our justice system is horrific. It’s racist and puts Indigenous women’s lives in danger,” she said. “It makes me sick to my stomach.”

Click to play video: 'Sister of Robert Pickton victim speaks out on 20th anniversary of investigation'
Sister of Robert Pickton victim speaks out on 20th anniversary of investigation

Pickton was not convicted in Holyk’s death, but those of Marnie Frey, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Sereena Abotsway, Brenda Wolfe and Georgina Papin.

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The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property following searches conducted after reports of illegal firearms in 2002. Police also seized more than 200,000 exhibits, including three freezers of more than 400 meat products, some of which contained unknown samples.

Pickton was sentenced to life in prison in 2007, and in 2010, after the Supreme Court upheld his sentence, 20 other first-degree murder charges against him were stayed as he was already serving the maximum sentence.

The families of those he killed have faced an uphill battle for justice, most recently, having fought applications by the B.C. RCMP to dispose of, destroy or return an estimated 14,000 exhibits kept in connection with the case.

In December, the families penned a letter opposing the move to the federal public safety minister, B.C. attorney general, and commissioner of the RCMP, co-signed by more than 40 organizations and advocates across Canada.

Click to play video: '20-years since police raided Robert Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam'
20-years since police raided Robert Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam

Sasha Reid, a developmental psychologist and the creator of a database of Canada’s unresolved cases of missing and murdered people, said the lack of public consultation on those applications is concerning.

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“This was an application that potentially connects to human remains and human materials,” the University of Calgary student told Global News.

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“I think given the amount of stress the family has been under, the amount of lies they’ve been told, the lack of information they have access to — this is something that at the very least, they should have been informed about.”

Click to play video: 'Robert Pickton prosecutor dies from COVID-19'
Robert Pickton prosecutor dies from COVID-19

Reid, who is also Métis, said the Pickton case is of “national significance” and one in which “blunders and missteps have happened at almost every single step.”

Global News uncovered a copy of one RCMP application filed in February 2021, which stated none of the exhibits Mounties sought to dispose of contained any human remains. The judge ordered the exhibits to be destroyed.

“How is it that you came to that conclusion?” Reid asked, calling for scientific evidence that those items have been tested and found to be free of DNA.

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“When we look at the investigation into the Pickton case, we saw there were multiple freezers throughout that property and within several of those freezers, we do know that there were human remains — not just fingerprints, not just trace DNA … are you telling me that there’s no human remains in those applications whatsoever?”

Click to play video: 'Victim’s family says Robert Pickton moved to Port Cartier Institution in Quebec'
Victim’s family says Robert Pickton moved to Port Cartier Institution in Quebec

The B.C. RCMP declined to be interviewed for this story.

In an emailed statement, Staff Sgt. Kris Clark said “laboratory reports and expert testimony speak to the accuracy” of testing in relation to the applications and “all bodily tissues were tested.” The differences between blood, bodily remains and DNA are important, he said.

The vast majority of exhibits were kept, Clark added, to support both the court process and subsequent inquiries into Canada’s MMIWG2S crisis.

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“As the exhibits were rapidly depreciating, and non-evidentiary, as well as for sanitary reasons, our need to dispose of the items was more immediate than what it would normally take to get a Disposal Order; these reasons factored into our decision to proceed Ex Parte,” Clark wrote.

“In order to be as transparent as possible given our time constraints, we did not seal the application and made no attempts to hide it from the public.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. woman explains why its not OK to name a drink after serial killer Robert Pickton'
B.C. woman explains why its not OK to name a drink after serial killer Robert Pickton

Williams said the applications have been “triggering” — even more so given their proximity to Pickton’s day parole eligibility date.

“It’s just been horrible to go through this and it just shows how the system is,” she said.

“These things come in huge waves and it’s weird to say this, but I’m kind of normalizing it … I don’t get shocked when these things come out from the RCMP or the government.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton brother of Pickton victim outraged by killer’s book'
Edmonton brother of Pickton victim outraged by killer’s book

Michele Pineault’s daughter, Stephanie Lane, is also believed to have been killed by Pickton. Her DNA was found on his farm.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vigil, she said her “heart is aching.”

“My daughter does not get day parole. She’s been gone for 27 years now,” Pineault said.

“He’s an evil, evil, evil man. He doesn’t belong even on this Earth. He needs to just stay where he is until the day he dies.”

Lane went missing in January 1997. She was 20 at the time and had a nine-month-old son.

Click to play video: 'Amazon stops selling serial killer Pickton’s book'
Amazon stops selling serial killer Pickton’s book

Both Williams and Pineault testified during the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

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In 2019, that inquiry found more than six in 10 Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people have experienced physical or sexual violence. They are also 12 times more likely to be missing or murdered than non-Indigenous women.

“I’m just missing my daughter immensely,” Pineault said. “Her laughter was contagious. “She was very gifted at art and dancing, and making everybody laugh. She was a funny, funny girl.”

Wednesday’s vigil is meant to honour and remember those killed by Pickton. The event includes cultural and mental health supports.

Click to play video: 'Government to try and stop distribution of book written by Robert Pickton'
Government to try and stop distribution of book written by Robert Pickton

If Pickton applies for day parole, Williams said some families have expressed interest in attending the hearing. He is currently held in a maximum security prison about 600 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

“I for sure would want to be there in person and I would have to prepare myself for that,” Williams said.

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“When I attended the case management hearing back in January, I was not prepared for him to actually come in-person, online on the screen.”

At times, Williams said “that trauma had taken over my life.” Through tears, she said it took her years to be able to go to Pickton’s farm.

Wednesday will be her third visit to the site. With so many unanswered questions and unprosecuted murders that took place there, she firmly stated that justice has not been served.

Editor’s note: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported Reid’s area of study and her position at the university. A previous version also incorrectly referred to Pickton as a serial rapist. 

The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers culturally competent counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous Peoples experiencing trauma, distress, strong emotions and painful memories. The line can be reached anytime toll-free at 1-855-242-3310.

— with files from Amy Judd and Rumina Daya

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