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The search for truth continues, regardless of the fate of the killer Pickton, say victim advocates

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VANCOUVER – Lawyers for the alleged victims of British Columbia serial killer Robert Pickton say they remain focused on seeking justice for the women while Pickton remains in a coma in a Quebec hospital following an attack in prison.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of the Vancouver-based service for battered women, said of the weekend attack, in which Pickton suffered life-threatening injuries, according to police: “There is something to be said about prison justice.”

But regardless of his fate, the fight for the women Pickton was accused of murdering continues, she said.

She said this includes a legal challenge to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's (RCMP) attempt to destroy about 14,000 pieces of evidence collected as part of the Pickton investigation.

In addition, several lawsuits are pending against Pickton and his brother David Pickton by family members of the victims.

Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing victims' families in nine lawsuits against the brothers, said the killer's possible death would have no impact on the proceedings.

“I do not expect that the health or well-being of Robert William Pickton will have a material impact on the course of the civil case,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

“Because of his self-published book 'The Fall Guy', I did not expect him to make a constructive contribution to the trial.”

Pickton was found guilty of six counts of first-degree murder of six women in 2007, but is suspected of killing numerous other women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

He boasted to an undercover agent about killing 49 women, and the remains or DNA of 33 women, many from the Downtown Eastside, were found on Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam, BC.

Quebec police said Thursday that Pickton, who was attacked Sunday at the maximum security Port-Cartier prison, was in an induced coma but doctors were trying to wake him up soon.

Gratl said a bigger issue than whether Pickton survived was the possible destruction of evidence.

“I am legal counsel for 16 children of nine women killed by Robert Pickton,” he said. “It is in their interest to preserve the evidence seized by the RCMP from the Pickton farm so that my clients can prove that Robert Pickton and David Pickton harmed them.”

In 2014, the botched investigation into the Pickton case ended with a $50,000 settlement for the children of the victims, who had sued all three levels of government and the RCMP.

MacDougall's group has signed a letter to the British Columbia government calling for the preservation of the exhibits.

“It has a profound and deep meaning because it represents all the women and families who have not received justice through the criminal justice system,” she said of the evidence.

About four years ago, the BC Mounties requested disposal of the material, which was found on a property associated with Pickton in Ruskin, BC. It is now stored in RCMP warehouses.

The items range from clothing, shoes and hairpins – including one with hair in it – to a sex toy and a rusty .303-caliber repeating rifle.

The RCMP argued that the items took up a lot of space and continued to incur costs. It said the evidence in question had been secured and preserved and would not affect future prosecutions.

In an email, RCMP Sergeant Kris Clark confirmed that the application for destruction was still pending in court and the process was ongoing.

The December 11 letter to the provincial government protesting the destruction of this evidence highlighted the harm that would be caused to families seeking justice.

“Twenty of the charges against Pickton have been stayed and have not yet resulted in convictions,” it said. “For the families of these victims, justice has been elusive and they still hold out hope that one day they will learn what happened to their loved ones.”

In another argument for keeping the document, the letter states that the testimony of the defense, prosecution and jury also “strongly suggests a shared belief that he did not act alone and that others may have been involved in the deaths of the six women whose murder Robert Pickton was found guilty of.”

Gratl repeated this.

“In addition to my client's more narrow interests, there are a number of civic organizations that oppose the destruction of evidence. They justify this on the grounds that the investigation into who killed the women on the Pickton farm should not be closed because Robert Pickton probably had accomplices,” he said.

“The destruction of the evidence seized by the RCMP would prevent a meaningful investigation of the accomplices and would certainly preclude any prosecution.”

The organization Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter was also among those calling for a halt to the RCMP's disposal plan.

Hilla Kerner, a spokeswoman for the home, said they felt compelled to sign the letter “in solidarity with the victims' families” in seeking justice. But the destruction of the evidence and Pickton's possible death could mean there is no justice at all for those whose deaths did not result in a conviction, she said.

“There is never final justice, in many cases there is no justice at all,” she said.

“Our debt to the women who lost their lives, our debt to their families, our debt to the women who are now homeless, in poverty and addicted to drugs – that is a debt the province has not paid.”

She said femicide is a “horrifying problem” in British Columbia and across Canada and that the Pickton case demonstrates this.

“The story of Pickton – the tragic, horrific stories of her victims – is a story of horrific male violence, but also of horrific, horrific state neglect of the women who were killed, and I fear we are not better off yet.”

Lydia Hwitsum, director of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the handling of the Pickton case also highlights the problems facing the Indigenous community.

“In the years since Pickton’s conviction, not much has changed to improve the safety of Indigenous women,” she said in an interview.

Hwitsum also demanded that evidence be secured.

“For so many harmed at Pickton's hands, the path to justice has not yet been paved,” she said. “The evidence that exists shows what our people went through, and it is critically important to preserve that evidence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2024.

Brieanna Charlebois and Nono Shen, The Canadian Press