It was only a year ago that serial killer Robert Pickton’s second-degree murder convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, ensuring he serves a minimum 25 years with no chance of parole.
Several websites and news stories listed 2032 as the date for full parole eligibility – 25 years after a jury convicted him in December of 2007.
So Wayne Leng, a friend of murdered Vancouver woman Sarah de Vries, was surprised when told the Port Coquitlam murderer could actually be out in the community without an escort in just over 12 years.
Pickton’s eligibility date for day parole is Feb. 22, 2024.
And he’s eligible for full parole in 2027 – 25 years after his original arrest date on Feb. 22, 2002.
“Oh my God,” Leng said in an interview from Calgary. “I was thinking it was 2032. I thought he’d die in prison.”
Leng runs the website missingpeople.net, which has acted as an online gathering place for families of Pickton’s victims.
If granted day parole at the earliest chance, Pickton, now 61, would be 74 and able to move freely by day – subject to conditions – while returning to a halfway house or prison cell at night.
“The families would be absolutely against any kind of day parole,” Leng said.
He noted Pickton’s defence team had asked for parole eligibility in as little as 15 years.
Had the courts approved that request, he could have been out on full parole just over five years from now and perhaps even sooner on day parole.
National Parole Board spokesperson Heather Byron said the parole eligibility dates are simply the earliest points Pickton can apply for release.
She said a parole board hearing on his full parole has been automatically scheduled a month in advance – for January of 2027 – while it’s up to Pickton to ask for day parole consideration.
In calculating his prison term, Pickton’s time in jail awaiting trial was treated as straight time, not the much-criticized two-for-one method of counting pre-trial custody double against the sentence – a practice being eliminated under federal Conservative justice reforms.
Some legal experts say the odds of Pickton ever being released are remote.
Irwin Cohen, a criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said it’s “highly unlikely” Pickton would get full parole as soon as the 25 years are up.
“There would be a massive public outcry,” Cohen said. “I can’t think of a Canadian example of somebody found guilty of the types of crimes he has who would get out on their first parole date.”
He also noted Pickton could still be classified a dangerous offender and imprisoned indefinitely.
Even if Pickton is released in 2027, he would not be truly free.
His sentence means he will be under the control of Corrections Canada for the rest of his life.
During the police investigation of the the serial killings, Pickton told an undercover officer he murdered 49 women and planned to do one more to make it an “even 50” and then take a break before killing 25 more.
He was only tried on six of 26 counts of murder to simplify the complex case and a jury convicted him of second-degree, not first-degree murder.
The Missing Women Inquiry headed by former attorney-general Wally Oppal begins hearings in Vancouver Oct. 11, examining the police handling of the Pickton investigation and the disappearances of addicted women from the Downtown Eastside.
Oppal was recently criticized for potentially pre-judging some of the issues before him and some groups representing women have refused to participate after being denied funding for lawyers.
Leng said the lead-up to the inquiry has been “a mess” but said it would be wrong for the government to remove Oppal now.
“We have to continue on with Wally Oppal,” he said. “We trust him. We’ve got to go forward.”
The commission may not uncover much, Leng conceded, but said he hopes it turns up answers on how the Vancouver Police and the RCMP failed to stop Pickton’s killing spree faster.
PHOTO: Some of the women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Pickton was convicted of killing just six of them. Another 20 counts never went to trial and DNA of still more women were found on the Pickton farm but never resulted in charges.