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Money coming for Pickton victims: lawyer

VANCOUVER - An offer to provide financial compensation to the children of serial killer Robert Pickton's victims could come as soon as six weeks from now, a lawyer for the British Columbia government said in court Wednesday.

Len Doust asked a B.C. Supreme Court judge to put a series of lawsuits filed by the children of nine women on hold, because he said a settlement offer could be ready soon.

"To be clear: there will be a payment," Doust told a hearing in a Vancouver courtroom, as Pickton watched by video from Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C.

"It wouldn't be at all unreasonable for that to occur (if the case was adjourned for six weeks to two months). It could occur even a lot sooner than that."

Doust did not reveal the potential amount of such a settlement offer.

The report from a public inquiry, released in December 2012, included a recommendation that the children of the murdered women be given financial compensation.

Doust told the court there could be more than 90 children who would qualify for compensation.

He said the provincial and federal governments and the City of Vancouver have been discussing various issues related to a compensation offer, such as the amount of an offer and what percentage each level of government would be responsible for, and he said they've made significant progress.

"It is not a fast process," said Doust.

The families' lawyer, Jason Gratl, told court he presented settlement offers to the province and the city six months ago but has yet to hear back.

He said if the governments agree on a compensation package, "that may change the circumstances significantly."

Pickton, who watched the proceedings over a video link, sat in a chair and listened with a blank look on his face.

He is now mostly bald, with a small patch of hair hanging from the back of his head and light facial hair. He wore a plain white shirt.

The families' lawyers are in court this week asking for public funding to pay for their legal bills as the case proceeds.

They also want to force the provincial government, which represents the RCMP and the Crown prosecution service, and the City of Vancouver, which represents the city's police force, to be forced to accept the factual findings of the public inquiry.

At the end of Wednesday's hearing, Pickton was asked whether he had anything to add.

He attempted to correct the date of a previous legal case cited during the hearing — though Pickton's correction was, in fact, incorrect — and then said: "Otherwise, no, I'm just going along with the information. I'm just going along."

Judge Susan Griffin reserved her decision on the families' two applications until the end of March, though she said she hoped the governments would continue their efforts to produce a compensation offer in the meantime.

The public inquiry report, authored by commissioner Wally Oppal, a former judge and former Liberal attorney general chronicled years of critical errors within various police investigations related to Vancouver's missing sex workers. He blamed "systemic bias" for the failure to catch Pickton sooner.

Gratl said it doesn't make sense to hear the same evidence as the inquiry.

"Repeating the exercise would be a colossal waste of resources," Gratl told the court.

Gratl also noted the police forces and governments involved in the case have publicly stated they accept the findings of the inquiry.

The provincial government and the City of Vancouver said they shouldn't be forced to accept all of the findings in Oppal's report, because a public inquiry isn't as rigorous as a formal trial. They also said it's difficult to distinguish between Oppal's factual findings and the commissioner's opinions.

The nine lawsuits target the provincial government, the city, several individual police officers and Pickton himself. Pickton's brother, David, is named as a defendant in seven of the lawsuits.

The families' statements of claim allege the Vancouver police and the RCMP were negligent when they investigated reports of missing sex workers and the possibility that Pickton might be responsible. They say the Crown was wrong not to put Pickton on trial for attempted murder following an attack on a sex worker in 1997.

The lawsuits also allege David Pickton helped cover for his brother in the 1997 case.

All of the defendants have filed statements of defence denying the allegations.

None of the claims have been tested in court.

Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence with no parole for at least 25 years.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed a total of 49 victims.

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