Police spokeswomen not among witnesses who will testify at Pickton inquiry

VANCOUVER – Two women who served as the public faces of the Vancouver police and the RCMP during the forces’ investigations of missing sex workers and Robert Pickton won’t be called to testify at the public inquiry into the case.

One of the women, RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford, made headlines last year with explosive allegations of widespread sexual harassment within the national police force. At the time, Galliford said she was eager to testify about why she believed the Mounties’ failed to catch Pickton.

The other, Const. Anne Drennan of the Vancouver police, is best known for repeatedly telling the public in the late 1990s that there was no evidence a serial killer was targeting sex workers, even though investigators believed that’s exactly what was happening.

Commissioner Wally Oppal issued a written statement Wednesday that listed Galliford and Drennan among a dozen witnesses who won’t be asked to testify, despite requests from participants that they be called. Oppal said he would explain his reasons at a later date.

Story continues below advertisement

Commissioner lawyer Art Vertlieb declined to comment on why Galliford and Drennan won’t be appearing.

“The commissioner is a very experience jurist, and I have total confidence that his ruling will allow him to do what he feels he needs to do,” Vertlieb said in an interview outside the inquiry.

Oppal’s statement said Galliford is welcome to participate in a less-formal study commission planned for next month, which will examine broader policy issues related to missing and murdered women.

Galliford couldn’t be reached to comment on her participation in the inquiry.

Drennan was a spokeswoman for the Vancouver police and handled media calls about the missing women investigation until she was re-assigned in June 2001.

She repeatedly denied there was any evidence that a serial killer was targeting sex workers in the Downtown Eastside, even as investigators on the ground actively investigated that theory.

Drennan continued those denials even as a geographic profiler on the force prepared reports that concluded a serial killer was the only explanation for a sudden increase in the number of missing sex workers, and after the force received several credible tips that Pickton was taking prostitutes to his farm in Port Coquitlam to be butchered.

The inquiry has heard Drennan was following the direction of senior officers within the department’s major crime unit.

Story continues below advertisement

Drennan did not publicly acknowledge the possibility of a serial killer until November 1999.

Galliford had limited involvement in the investigation that preceded Pickton’s arrest.

The RCMP and the Vancouver police formed a joint task force in 2001 to review missing person files involving sex workers, and Galliford joined as spokeswoman in December 2001 – two months before Pickton’s arrest.

Still, Galliford has publicly alleged she saw enough to know the RCMP dropped the ball on the case.

She told reporters last year that after reading the RCMP’s file on the case, she believed police could have raided Pickton’s farm in Port Coquitlam as early as 1999. Instead, The Mounties didn’t arrive until February 2002, when an officer who wasn’t connected to the missing women investigation obtained a search warrant on a tip about illegal firearms.

She made the comments in a series of media interviews last year in which she came forward with allegations of persistent sexual harassment during her 20 years on the force. Galliford, who says the experience left her with post-traumatic stress, outlined the allegations in a 115-page internal complaint with the RCMP, which the force is now investigating.

Oppal’s statement on Wednesday listed more than a dozen additional witnesses, including former B.C. premier and attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh, former RCMP deputy commissioner Gary Bass and former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen.

Story continues below advertisement

The witnesses that Oppal rejected include Ross Caldwell, one of the informants that implicated Pickton; Lynn Ellingsen, a friend of Pickton’s who became a star Crown witness at his trial; and Peter Ritchie, who was Pickton’s lawyer when he was charged with attempted murder in 1997 and later represented him at his murder trial.

Meanwhile, the inquiry continued to hear evidence Wednesday from senior Vancouver police officers who were overseeing the investigation into missing women in the 1990s.

Retired inspector Fred Biddlecombe, who was in charge of the Vancouver police force’s major crime unit in the late 1990s, has faced repeated criticism that he ignored warnings a serial killer was preying on sex workers and, as a result, didn’t give the investigation the attention it deserved.

Instead, Biddlecombe assigned officers to investigate other theories to explain the disappearances. For example, one investigator spent two months searching indigent burial records to determine whether any unidentified remains were, in fact, those of Downtown Eastside sex workers.

“I’d characterize that as a wild goose chase,” Jason Gratl, a lawyer representing the interests of Downtown Eastside residents, told Biddlecombe during cross-examination.

“It’s an investigative lead that had to be followed up,” replied Biddlecombe.

“It was an investigative lead that was focused on your pet theory that the women would be found because they would be transient,” continued Gratl, “Or as you put it in your memo (in May of 1999), they had died because of the deaths attributable to AIDS or drug overdoses.”

Story continues below advertisement

“That was one possibility, yes,” replied Biddlecombe. “It was not a pet theory. It was an investigative process that had to be looked at.”

Biddlecombe has been singled out for criticism, with former officers accusing him of being a hot-headed, arrogant manager who refused to believe the women were missing at all.

The inquiry has heard Biddlecombe disbanded a working group that was brainstorming ways to investigate whether a single killer was behind the disappearances, and that he blocked a news release in the fall of 1998 warning that a serial killer may be on the loose.

But Biddlecombe said mental health issues have left him with sporadic memory loss, and he couldn’t explain why he blocked the news release or dismantled the working group. His lawyer has submitted a doctor’s letter stating Biddlecombe was diagnosed in 1999 with job-related stress, and has since been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders.

The inquiry is expected to wrap up by the end of May, and Oppal’s report is due by June 30.

Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, but the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm. He told an undercover police officer he killed a total of 49.