Legal manoeuvring not only threatens commission's credibility, it's costing precious time and creating an opportunity for grandstanding
BY IAN MULGREW, VANCOUVER SUN DECEMBER 31, 2011
Missing Women Commissioner Wally Oppal faces a serious hurdle this new year: His inquiry is taking too long and the legal manoeuvring is threatening its credibility.
When the former attorneygeneral was appointed in September 2010 to determine what went wrong with the investigation and initial prosecution of serial killer Robert Pickton, the provincial government wanted a report by the end of 2011.
That was overly ambitious. Oppal was granted a sixmonth extension by Victoria but after roughly two months of public hearings even he is exasperated.
"You know we can't go on forever," he complained at one point, all but throwing up his hands at the demands from the platoon of participating lawyers.
He engaged in a nasty exchange over calling more witnesses with Cameron Ward, who represents some of the families of Pickton's victims.
Oppal said no, much to Ward's displeasure.
One of his clients, a parent, snapped that Oppal might be a respected jurist and ex-cabinet minister but he was "full of s---."
And this was to be a healing process?
During the holiday break, one would hope, Oppal's staff was searching for a much-needed solution to this unseemly stasis.
Oppal must wrest control of the proceedings back from the lawyers with their oath-driven, court-nurtured bad habits.
This is not a trial, it need not proceed like a trial - Oppal can be creative. Why can't some of the witnesses come forward, tell their stories and answer a few questions as best they can without the legal rigmarole?
Too many lawyers think their job is to get someone in the box and interrogate them until they say what's wanted or until everyone gets so bored no one can remember what the issue is.
It's an epidemic within the profession where timelines are hypothetical, presentation estimates not even rough guesses and the word "urgent" all but unknown.
For some, we've already seen that this inquiry is an opportunity to grandstand and command attention.
That's what we've seen so far with the treatment of Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Doug LePard. His performance exhibited both what this inquiry can achieve, and what it threatens to become.
LePard changed his tune in his testimony and the public needed to hear that. Until now, he and the department staunchly defended its performance.
On the stand, however, Le-Pard explained and made manifest what was between the lines of his report on the Pickton case and he agreed with many criticisms - the VPD acted in a racist and indifferent manner to the disappearances of the women, many of them aboriginals, and the entire chain of command was culpable.
But he was also subjected to interminable cross-examination and too much theatrical disrespect.
Oppal made a mistake allowing a lawyer to spend hourafter-hour asking irrelevant questions about a make-believe search warrant and a charge police never considered laying, "kidnapping by fraud." It was surreal, and Oppal cannot permit any more of it.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 after a hellish murder spree that lasted four years longer than it should have.
The public has been waiting for a decade to learn why he eluded both the VPD and the RCMP and why attempted murder charges and several specific tips did not lead to the end of his heinous activities.
Oppal has survived a storm of opposition to get the inquiry this far; it would be a great tragedy if he were unable to bring it to a reasonable and timely conclusion.
Still, a report by June 30?
At this rate, unless he reins in the lawyers, it won't be June 2012.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun