B.C. Supreme Court Justice Glen Parrett waded into the controversy over whether an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women should be held as he formally sentenced serial killer Cody Allan Legebokoff to life on Tuesday at the Prince George courthouse.
Parrett commended investigators for the "good solid police work" they used to bring Legebokoff to justice but also noted that good fortune played a role in sparking the investigation.
"I am aware of comments being made to the effect that there is no need to embark on any formal inquiry into missing and murdered women, that policing is the solution to this problem," Parrett said. "With the greatest of respect to those of a different view, we should all be eternally grateful to a very young and inexperienced police officer whose instincts were sound and on the money."
Fort St. James Cst. Aaron Kehler pulled Legebokoff over on the night of Nov. 27, 2010 when he saw him driving onto Highway 27 from a rarely used logging road about 40 kilometres north of Vanderhoof and pulled him over for speeding.
He noticed blood on Legebokoff's face and clothes, sparking a series of events that led to the discovery of the lifeless but still-warm body of Loren Donn Leslie, a legally-blind 15-year-old girl, that soon turned into a wider investigation.
If Legebokoff had not been pulled over, he could have gone on to kill more women, Parrett said.
As it stands, a jury found Legebokoff guilty last week of first degree murder in the deaths of Leslie, Jill Stacey Stuchenko and Cynthia Maas, both 35, and Natasha Lynn Montgomery, 23.
"What followed was good sound police work that tried to integrate separate investigations and bring them to trial," Parrett said. "But make no mistake, it was luck that began those events."
Parrett went on to say the issue of missing and murdered women is not "just a First Nations issue," although he noted they still represent a disproportionately high number of the victims.
"It is a sociological issue, one that arises from, among other things, a high risk life style," Parrett said. "It is something that must be dealt with."
Two of Legebokoff's victims were Caucasian and two were First Nations.
"It is a mistake, in my view, to limit the seriousness of this issue and to pretend, as some do, that policing is an answer when the circumstances of this case raise questions about the effectiveness of that process at times," Parrett said.
"We simply must do better, especially where the commitment to policing is reflected in an 84 per cent cut to the budget of the Highway of Tears task force."
Parrett did not express an opinion outright on whether an inquiry should be held.
The Vancouver Sun reported last week that from a peak of $5 million for three fiscal years between 2009/ 10 and 2011/ 12, the budget for the RCMP's Project E-Pana' fell to $1.8 million for 2012/13 and for 2013/14, it stood at $800,000.
At one time had 70 police officers plus support staff, and now has 12 investigators.
The task force was launched in 2006 to investigate 18 murders or disappearances that span 37 years, from 1969 to 2006, and a wide geographic area encompassing Highways 16, 97 and 5. Ten of the 18 victims on the Highway of Tears list are native.
As for Legebokoff, Parrett sentenced him to four concurrent terms of life without eligibility for parole until Nov. 28, 2035, 25 years after he was first arrested. although he can apply for a reduction after 15 years.
The step was a formality given the sentence is automatic under the Criminal Code for first degree murder. However, Parrett also determined Legebokoff's name should be added to the national sex offender registry after finding three of the murders were committed during a sexual assault, one of the basis for reaching verdict of first degree murder.
Parrett also found that three of the murders were carried out in a planned and deliberate manner, which is the other basis for first degree murder.
Parrett also said the conditions of the bodies that were found - Montgomery has remained missing - show Legebokoff's intention "appeared to be aimed not simply at killing the victims, but degrading and destroying."
Legebokoff had an eight-inch height advantage over the tallest of the victims an a 100-pound weight advantage over the heaviest, Parrett said.
"These are not the actions of a simple killer but something infinitely worse," Parrett said. "This is a man who by his actions has demonstrated the absolute need to be separated from society, to protect members of that society and particularly, the most vulnerable of that society who he has targeted."
Parrett pointed to several examples from Legebokoff's own testimony in concluding he demonstrated "a complete void" within him.
"He lacks any shred of empathy or remorse," Parrett said. "He should never be allowed to walk among us again."
Parrett dismissed Legebokoff's testimony while on the stand about how the killings occurred as largely fabricated but said he noticed a recurring theme, that "nothing is ever his fault."
"Things never happen because he's done something. They always seem to occur by agreement or by mutual consent or for some other reason not directly related to him," Parrett said.
Parrett found that contrary Legebokoff's claim that Leslie hit herself with a pipe wrench and stabbed herself in the neck with the knife from a multitool, the injuries were not self inflicted. Likewise, he concluded that X, Y and Z, who Legebokoff said carried out the killings of the three women, do not exist.
Legebokoff refused to provide the names of X, Y and Z while on the stand, which prompted Parrett to say during the trial that an application for contempt of court against Legebokoff will be heard at the trial's conclusion. But with Lebebokoff sentenced to life, Parrett said on Tuesday nothing further would be gained by pursuing that matter.
Parrett gave his comments in a reasons for judgment read to a courtroom packed with more than 100 people.
At one point, Parrett's voice cracked with emotion as he assured the victims' families that he subsequently read each of their impact statements over more than once after they were read into the record last week.
Sheriffs lined the bar as Legebokoff was led away in cuffs, showing no emotion as he has throughout the trial. An onlooker from the gallery called on him to reveal where he had taken Montgomery's body.