4.9 M fund for children of murdered women
VANCOUVER - A man whose mother was the last to be reported missing in connection with serial killer Robert Pickton says $4.9 million in government compensation for the 98 children of women who disappeared provides some recognition for decades of pain.
"It's been a long battle to get this far," Troy Boen, 28, said Tuesday after the federal, B.C. and Vancouver governments announced the fund that will provide $50,000 for each of the children of 67 missing and murdered women, mostly Pickton's victims.
Boen's mother, Yvonne Marie Boen, went missing on March 16, 2001, soon after they'd planned to spend spring break together. He called her back repeatedly, but there was no answer.
A 2012 report from a public inquiry that outlined years of police failures made 63 recommendations, including compensating the offspring of the women who'd disappeared up to 2002, when Pickton was arrested.
Boen's DNA was later found on Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam, where the killer lured vulnerable women from Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside.
Ann-Marie Livingston, 40, along with her sister and brother, will also share in the compensation.
"I'm having a lot of mixed emotions today," said Livingston, whose mother, Elsie Sebastian, was last seen in October 1991.
"My heart's just been pounding all day. I'm sort of on the verge of tears and yet very excited. It's a success, but it's not something to celebrate," she said, adding: "I'm the same age that my mom was when she went missing."
She said her brother, Robert Sebastian, now 31, was so young when their mother disappeared that he suffered most of the emotional trauma and needs life-long care because he is schizophrenic.
Livingston said she and her sister, Doralee Livingston, testified at the inquiry led by commissioner Wally Oppal and made several recommendations, including compensation for the missing and murdered women's children.
"I openly said that I don't care if it's for us, but for someone. Some type of fund for those who need it and who can benefit from it."
The missing women's report said Sebastian's case was one of the most extreme when it came to barriers for families reporting their loved ones missing to police.
Oppal said an attempt to make a missing person's report in 1992 was refused.
"Evidence indicates she was reported missing in 1993, 1994 and 1999, but her 'official' report was not taken, and therefore not truly investigated until 2001," he said in the report.
Sebastian's family was told that because she was an older aboriginal woman, drug addicted and missing in the Downtown Eastside, finding her wouldn't be a priority, the report said.
Pickton admitted to an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women, but the DNA or remains of 33 women were found on his farm. He was convicted of the second-degree murders of six women and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
After Pickton was convicted in 2007, the Crown announced that 20 other charges of first-degree murder would be stayed because he already faced the stiffest sentence available under Canadian law.
"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," B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton told a news conference Tuesday.
Lawyer Jason Gratl represents 13 children, including Boen and Livingston, who filed civil lawsuits against the three levels of government in connection with their mothers' deaths.
"I have no doubt that our clients' courage in bringing forth these lawsuits forced the government to reckon with their responsibility, ethical and legal, to all of the children of the missing women," Gratl said.
Twelve of the 13 children have accepted the $50,000 offer, he said.
"We're having difficulty locating one of our clients and if the government refuses to recognize the 12 binding agreements because one of our clients is difficult to find within a three-day period, well then that's just sheer bureaucratic intransigence."
The lawsuits claimed police, including individual RCMP officers, and the Crown failed to warn women on the Downtown Eastside that a serial killer may have been responsible for women disappearing.
The court action also said the Crown was wrong for not putting Pickton on trial for attempted murder following an attack on a sex worker in 1997.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu has repeatedly apologized for his force's failure to stop Pickton's killing spree.
On Tuesday, he again said he was sorry and will always regret that Pickton wasn't caught sooner.
"I regret every life that was lost and those murders we failed to prevent," Chu said, adding there's no real compensation for those who lost their mothers so tragically.
The federal government and the RCMP will contribute 40 per cent towards the fund, B.C. will also provide 40 per cent of the money, and the remaining 20 per cent will come from the City of Vancouver.