More than a year after the missing women inquiry ruled that systemic racism and a “colossal failure” by RCMP and Vancouver police had allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to continue killing for years, B.C. has settled a lawsuit with 13 children of missing women, and announced a $4.9 million fund for 98 such children in the province.
Announcing the fund on March 18, B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said a $50,000 fund for each child of women named in the missing women inquiry final report is “a fair amount” and “the right thing to do.”
The fund was announced by Anton alongside Vancouver Police Department chief Jim Chu and representatives of B.C. RCMP and Vancouver City Council. But several families of serial killer Robert Pickton’s mostly Indigenous victims decried the price on their mothers’ deaths as “blood money” and insufficient compensation.
“It’s sad to say my daughter’s birth mother was only worth $50,000,” said Bridget Perrier, stepmother of Angel Wolfe, whose mother Brenda was one of Pickton’s six murder convictions.
“They have blood on their hands, so this is blood money.
“As someone who’s raised a child that is an orphan due to the systemic racism that went on within the province of B.C. and within the VPD, this is disgusting… it’s pennies. Some of these children have been raised in immense poverty... These are children with multiple layers of issues.”
“No amount of money could compensate the children for the loss of their mother, but we do hope that this fund will help the 98 children who are eligible,” Anton told reporters. “It is our sincere hope that this funding will provide these children with an opportunity to enhance their education, their housing and other circumstances as they progress with their lives.”
Anton said the amount of $50,000 was decided in connection with a lawsuit by 13 children of missing women, which is poised to settle out of court for the same amount plus legal costs.
For Michele Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie’s DNA was found on Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm, the amount might be insufficient, but it will hopefully help her grandson go to college.
“You could pay off each kid $1 million, it’s not going to bring back their mother,” she said. “It’s a figure of money, that’s all it is.
There’s no other case like this, but there’s not a lot of big payouts to kids in general.”
Pineault said she believes the government compensation package was the result not only of her and the other 12 families’ lawsuits, but also community pressure and protest.
“I don’t think it was just the lawsuit,” she said. “It was pushing from the community as well. We refused to back down. We weren’t going to let it get out of their face.”
The founder of the Butterflies in Spirit performance troupe, made up of missing women’s family members, said the compensation fund is important for children like her cousin, whose mother Tanya Holyk was found on Pickton’s farm.
“I honestly don’t think any number is enough,” said Lorelei Williams. “However, at least it’s something for my little cousin who grew up without his mother. He was just a little baby when she went missing.
“Wally Oppal said they should do this, but we’ve had to push and fight for it. We’ve been fighting, as family members, for these children for so long. This evens it out and makes it fair for all the children.”
One of three lawyers who represented families in court said the low compensation figure resulting from his cases shines a spotlight on the province’s “inadequate” Family Compensation Act.
“Nobody is suggesting for a moment that $50,000 is adequate to compensate them for the loss of their mothers,” he said. “It really amounts to a value in the courts that most people would agree is unfair and too little.
“A lot of people feel that while the number might be an accurate reflection of the law in the province, it’s the law that needs to be changed.”
He and several other lawyers said it’s time to revisit that law and allow victims’ families in general to press for higher damages for a wrongful death of a loved one.
Other critics of the government applauded the compensation, but pointed out it was only one of 63 recommendations made in Oppal’s final inquiry report, including the creation of a shuttle bus along northern B.C.’s “Highway of Tears” where dozens of women have disappeared.
Meanwhile, with government and police dropped from the 13 children’s lawsuits, the case continues against Robert Pickton and his brother Dave, who has denied accusations he should have known what was happening on his property.
In 2007, after the most expensive police investigation in Canadian history, Pickton was convicted of six second-degree murders. The serial killer told a jailhouse undercover police officer that he had actually killed 49 women, but prosecutors decided to drop 27 other murder charges for women’s DNA discovered on his property.
Photo caption: Michele Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie’s DNA was found on the Pickton farm, is part of a lawsuit settlement with B.C., and continues her journey for justice for her grandson.