Organizations representing women in the Downtown Eastside are criticizing the provincial government’s decision not to fund their participation in B.C.’s upcoming missing women inquiry.
Families of missing and murdered women were granted funding last week to participate in the inquiry. However, some advocacy groups are challenging B.C.'s decision not to provide funding for groups representing aboriginal women, sex trade workers and Downtown Eastside residents.
Marlene George, chair of the February 14 Women’s Memorial March committee, called the funding decision “an assault to women in the Downtown Eastside, aboriginal women and community groups”.
“When we expressed many years ago that women from this community were missing in increasing numbers, we were ignored, and now we’ve been shut out of the process,” she told the Straight by phone.
Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal had recommended to B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner that funding be granted to 13 groups who asked for financial support to participate in the inquiry.
Full participants in the inquiry recommended for funding included the memorial march committee and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, a coalition of sex-worker serving organizations, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Walk4Justice and Frank Paul Society.
Penner said in a statement that while there is no legal obligation for the government to pay the legal fees for inquiry participants, they decided the families of the missing women should take priority for financial assistance.
George said not having funding to hire legal counsel will limit the ability of Downtown Eastside organizations to participate in the public inquiry, which she argued will leave “huge gaps” in the process.
She said many of the organizations that were declined funding were in close contact with the women that went missing.
“We worked with and we know a lot of the women that are on that missing women poster,” she said. “Do we have to keep reminding authorities that we need to be heard?”
Oppal said in a statement today he has asked the inquiry’s legal counsel to meet with lawyers representing the groups that were denied funding to “see what can be done to meet their clients’ needs”.
Part of the commission of inquiry's mandate is to examine police investigations conducted between Jan. 23, 1997 and Feb. 5, 2002 into women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside.