Lorelei Williams decided not to attend the 2007 trial of notorious B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton, who was linked to the murder of her cousin Tanya Holyk, because she felt it would be too traumatizing.
More than 15 years later, she says families like hers are having those wounds reopened with news that the RCMP has applied for the destruction of an estimated 14,000 exhibits collected as part of the Pickton investigation.
“This information only gets dropped on us during Christmastime, which is already hard for the family members without their loved ones, especially the children, especially the mothers,” she said.
Family members and the advocacy group Justice for Girls said Monday the evidence police want destroyed could be used to convict other people or solve some of the dozens of unsolved cases of women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Mounties say all relevant evidence has been retained and they can’t keep every piece of property indefinitely.
Sasha Reid, who runs a database of missing people and unsolved murders in Canada, said the Pickton case is not complete and if the evidence is destroyed police lose any chance of convicting other suspects connected to what happened on Pickton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
“I’m concerned because advances in DNA analysis are growing every single day. You can’t say that there’s no evidentiary value,” she said.
“And beyond DNA analysis, there are other reasons for why that evidence has evidentiary value. How about the fact that this is an unsolved ongoing case, where there are very clear, very obvious, other suspects?”
Pickton was found guilty in 2007 of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for 25 years in the deaths of six women.
When the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his sentence, first-degree murder charges involving 20 other women, including Holyk, were stayed because Pickton was already serving the maximum sentence.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision notes that Pickton’s statements to police “implied the involvement of others but not to the exclusion of the accused.”
Williams said if she had a chance to speak with RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme she would ask him how he would react if the victims were members of his family.
“I don’t think they would destroy the evidence. They protect their own. You know, they don’t care about us,” she said.
RCMP spokesman Sgt. Kris Clark said in a statement that “all evidence is being preserved.”
“To put it simply, the RCMP is not authorized to retain property indefinitely and is making application to the court for disposition of that property. Ultimately, this process is required by law and is for the intended purpose of returning property to the rightful owners, where applicable, or for the disposal of items not claimed,” he said.
Clark said the Mounties “have been working closely with the victims’ families to return their loved ones’ belongings as well as local First Nations to ensure disposal is done in a culturally sensitive way.”
A letter endorsed by more than 40 organizations, academics and Indigenous groups was to the federal public safety minister, B.C.’s government and Duheme, asking them to “take immediate steps to preserve Pickton evidence.”
“This latest step by the RCMP symbolizes yet another failure for these families, for our communities and for Canada’s overall commitment to justice, human rights and dignity for stolen sisters, mothers, daughters, aunties and grandmothers,” the letter says.