Former Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe told the missing women’s inquiry Feb 20 that a former safe house for sex workers was “another very good initiative” and a “very good cause.” However, Blythe was the city’s chief constable when police raided and closed Grandma’s House in August 2000.
Women were still disappearing from Vancouver’s streets at the time of the raid.
High-profile sex-trade activist Jamie Lee Hamilton had established Grandma’s House just outside the Downtown Eastside, where convicted serial killer Robert Pickton hunted his victims, most of them addicted, street-level sex-trade workers.
Grandma’s House was set up to provide food, condoms and safe rental rooms for sex workers. Hamilton was charged with running a bawdyhouse following the end of a three-day undercover operation that resulted in the raid.
Hamilton was watching the live coverage of the missing women’s inquiry on Feb 20 when Blythe made the positive statements about Grandma’s House.
“I was a bit shocked,” she said. “I question the sincerity of his comments.”
Blythe made the statements to Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal, a former judge and BC attorney general, under questioning from his counsel, Eddie Greenspan, one of Canada’s top lawyers.
Blythe testified that he fully supported Hamilton’s efforts at Grandma’s House.
The commissioner is examining the police investigation that ultimately led to Pickton’s arrest. The Port Coquitlam pig farmer wasn’t taken into custody until February 2002. He was ultimately charged with killing 26 women and was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in December 2007. Pickton admitted that he had killed 49 women to an undercover cell plant after his arrest.
Hamilton says that Grandma’s House was set up for women trying to protect themselves from a then-unknown predator. “Shutting us down increased the likelihood of more women being murdered, and that’s in fact what happened,” Hamilton says.
She says that in 1999, she had tried to move Grandma’s House. “The police blocked us, saying they had enough problems in the area,” she recalls. “I questioned how supportive they were.”
She says she never received words of support from Blythe. “The buck stopped with him. Draw your own conclusions.”
She alleges that she was approached by Blythe and deputy chief John Unger during the wrongful dismissal suit brought in 2001 by geographic profiler and former VPD detective inspector Kim Rossmo, who had told the force Vancouver had a serial killer. Hamilton also alleges that Blythe and Unger told her they wished she would give them more positive feedback. “I responded by saying, ‘Bring me a killer and I’ll gush over all the good work that you’re doing.’ Other than that, there was no feedback on the work we were doing.”
It wasn’t until April 2003 — by which time Jamie Graham had become the city’s new police chief — that the charges against Hamilton were stayed. Pickton’s preliminary hearing was already underway in Port Coquitlam by then.
In the spring of 2002, Hamilton asked provincial court judge Carlie Trueman to dismiss the case, saying the bawdyhouse law was too broad and should be stricken from the Criminal Code.
After several months of deliberation, the judge refused. Then she went on leave.
Hamilton braced herself for yet another long wait, as the court prepared to appoint a new judge and debate whether the lawyers should present their cases all over again.
All along, the Crown insisted on pursuing its bawdyhouse charge.
Then, the charge was stayed.
“We came to the conclusion that it was no longer in the public interest to prosecute,” Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul, now a BC Supreme Court justice, said at the time. The charge was almost three years old.
It simply wasn’t worth going through a whole re-hearing with a new judge, Gaul said.