Lawsuit settled over Robert Pickton murders
VANCOUVER – The botched investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton has resulted in a settlement of $50,000 for each of the victims’ children who sued three levels of government and the RCMP.
Lawyer Jason Gratl said Monday that the deal involves 13 plaintiffs who filed civil lawsuits against the provincial and federal governments, the City of Vancouver and several Mounties.
Gratl, who represented the families, said the children of the murdered women took legal action reluctantly, but felt they had no choice when the governments didn’t act on a recommendation from a public inquiry to compensate them.
His clients are generally pleased with the settlement, Gratl said.
“It’s giving the children of missing women a leg up to try, in some small measure, to give them a chance to improve their lives, improve their prospects in the future. It was something worth doing.”
Eleven family members have accepted the proposal, one person is expected to respond shortly and B.C.’s public guardian must approve a settlement accepted by a boy who has not yet turned 18, Gratl said.
The agreement includes paying for children’s legal fees, but doesn’t come with an admission of liability, Gratl said.
A lawyer for the B.C. government told a judge in January that there could be more than 90 children who would qualify for compensation. It’s unclear if other family members will also be compensated.
The B.C. government announced Monday afternoon that it would be holding a joint news conference Tuesday along with federal and City of Vancouver representatives.
The government statement said it would outline a shared, significant response to a key recommendation by missing women’s inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.
The B.C. Ministry of Justice later issued a brief email statement saying that a settlement with the 13 plaintiffs remained outstanding.
“At this time, we can only say that we are hopeful we will reach a settlement with those litigants and be in a position to compensate them in a way that is consistent with what Mr. Oppal envisioned.”
The DNA or remains of 33 women were found on Pickton’s farm in Port Coquitlam after he was arrested in 2002. He was convicted of second-degree murder for killing six women and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 25 years.
The B.C. Crown prosecutor’s office then announced that 20 other charges of first-degree murder would be stayed because Pickton already faced the stiffest sentence available under Canadian law.
The families claimed in their lawsuits that Vancouver police and the RCMP were negligent when they investigated reports of missing sex workers and the possibility that Pickton might be responsible.
The court action also said the Crown was wrong when it didn’t put Pickton on trial for attempted murder following an attack on a sex worker in 1997.
The public inquiry into the murder investigation and Pickton’s actions found many failures by police. Commissioner Wally Oppal recommended a so-called healing fund to compensate the children of Pickton’s victims.
Oppal concluded systemic bias against poor, drug-addicted sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside prompted public indifference and led to police failures.
The Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP publicly apologized for their lack of action on the killer’s case.
However, in documents filed in response to the civil lawsuits, the departments said their officers acted reasonably when they received information that women were vanishing and that Pickton was a suspect.
Gratl said civil action against Pickton and his brother continues.
“There’s nothing in this settlement that restricts the plaintiffs from carrying on against Robert and David Pickton, and they intend to do so.”
B.C. law limits compensation to financial loss and loss of affection, but there’s no recovery for loss of life or wrongful death, Gratl said.
“Given the parsimonious state of the law, these settlement amounts are strong and solid.”
He said the settlements also allow the children to forgo difficult questions in court about the relationships they had with their murdered mothers.