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Alleged human tissue in meat 'far-fetched,' Pickton's brother says

VANCOUVER

brother of Robert William Pickton said he's stunned by an announcement that human tissue might have made its way into meat that came from the suburban Vancouver farm he once shared with his older sibling, who is now awaiting trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder.

"It's just too far-fetched," Dave Pickton said in a telephone interview yesterday. "It's doesn't make any sense what they're saying now."

Police and British Columbia's top health official issued tandem warnings this week that meat from Mr. Pickton's farm might contain human tissue. Both were quick to add that the chances of anyone possessing such meat were small, as was the health risk in the event that people consumed it.

Perry Kendall, B.C.'s health officer, said he felt duty-bound to issue a public alert because contaminated meat "could be sitting in freezers in the Lower Mainland."

But Dave Pickton, who co-owns the Port Coquitlam farm with his brother and a sister, called the warning outlandish. He said his brother's pig operation was small and informal and that Robert Pickton delivered freshly slaughtered, whole pigs to a small group of friends, largely in Port Coquitlam's Filipino community. His brother also sold goats, which he bought at auctions, he said.

To his knowledge, his brother did not even own equipment to grind meat, Mr. Pickton said.

He conceded that Robert Pickton, who was known for his generosity, gave food -- including meat --and money to acquaintances he thought were down on their luck. But his fridge and freezers were filled with processed meat bought from stores, Mr. Pickton said.

"He had boxes and boxes of bacon. If there was a sale on ham, he'd get a case of it."

Robert Pickton has been in jail since February, 2002, when police raided the sprawling property in their search for scores of missing Vancouver prostitutes. All told, 61 women have vanished since the 1980s. For more than 18 months, teams of forensic investigators pored over every square centimetre of soil on the farm. So far, the DNA of 31 women have been discovered.

Cris Diopita, once a close friend of Robert Pickton, said he bought pigs from the accused for more than a decade. Mr. Diopita, who was a frequent visitor to the farm and brought his son to play there, said he only knew Mr. Pickton to sell whole animals.

However, the RCMP-Vancouver Police task force investigating the missing women believed otherwise. And last Friday, they sought the advice of Dr. Kendall and Health Canada.

Dr. Kendall said police didn't divulge specific evidence, but provided him with a few hypothetical scenarios. Health officials agreed they should issue a public warning.

There was a "quantifiable risk that was obvious to everybody that it wasn't information that could be withheld," Dr. Kendall said.

But the news put health officials in a tricky legal situation because some of the information police provided could form part of the evidence to be heard at Mr. Pickton's coming trial. At the outset of Mr. Pickton's six-month preliminary hearing last year, the presiding judge imposed a publication ban pertaining to all evidence heard at the hearing.

Given that the public health risk was so small, Dr. Kendall said there was the option of sitting on the information. He sought legal advice and was told the information could be divulged if there was a public health issue.

"The choice would have been to withhold the information in a paternalistic way because we don't think it's relevant to the individuals and then have it come out a year from now or 18 months from now at the trial, and I don't think that would have been an ethical or acceptable behaviour on the part of our organizations."

A news conference was planned for yesterday, but word leaked out to the media on Wednesday, so police and health officials hastily pushed ahead the announcement.

As a result, some of the relatives of the dead and missing women weren't warned and learned the news from reporters.

Police and health officials have asked anyone who may still have frozen meat products from Mr. Pickton's farm to give them to police. As of yesterday, a handful of people have come forward, Dr. Kendall said.

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