Oppal report draws mixed reaction from families and advocacy groups

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Family members of some of the women that disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the years before Robert Pickton’s arrest plan to continue to push for systemic changes following the release of Wally Oppal’s final report on the B.C. missing women inquiry today (December 17).

Ernie Crey told reporters following the release of the commissioner’s 63 official recommendations that he hasn’t forgotten about what the process is “all about”.

“I’m very happy with today—everything I’ve heard,” he said. “But I haven’t forgot what underlies it all, and that’s the tragic loss of so many lives, and the change that needs to take place.”

The DNA of Crey’s sister, Dawn, was found on Pickton’s farm. Crey said he plans to work with Steven Point, who has been appointed as the chair of a new provincial advisory committee on the safety and security of vulnerable women, and with organizations and agencies in the Downtown Eastside, to ensure the recommendations move forward.

“You know governments can make promises, and sometimes they falter,” he told reporters. “So it takes people to come forward and say you’re faltering. You said you would do this, let’s make sure it happens. I’ll always be there asking the government not to forget what the recommendations are all about, and the promises that they made today.”

Crey said “no one can fault” some of the recommendations made by Oppal, such as a Greater Vancouver regional police force and a call for more funding for centres that provide emergency services for sex-trade workers.

“A regional policing agency, why not—I mean after all, it was policing agencies not cooperating, not working together, that permitted Pickton to go on killing, one woman after the next after the next,” said Crey. “That needs to stop.”

“How can 24-hour centres for women who live and work on the streets be a bad thing? A place where they can go for a meal, a coffee, in comfort,” he added. “Those services weren’t around when my sister was living on the streets.”

Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Cara Ellis's DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, was more cautiously optimistic about the report.

“We’re talking about the same government who said that it wasn’t a financially responsible thing to proceed with the charges of my sister-in-law’s brutal murder—so in that pocket, I really don’t have a lot of faith in the government at all, unfortunately,” she told reporters.

“But I think at some point in time, in order for the families to start healing, we have to start putting trust in someone, even if it’s misplaced trust.”

Ellis, who travelled from Alberta to attend the inquiry, said Oppal managed to capture what was heard in the testimony through his report.

“Unfortunately I think it was a little of a whitewash in what he was able to see through his lawyers, but from what he saw and what we saw sitting there everyday, I think the report was good,” she said.

“It’s a baby step, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.”

Representatives of Downtown Eastside and aboriginal advocacy groups were more critical of the recommendations released today. Over a dozen groups withdrew from the inquiry before it began last year, following the B.C. government’s decision to provide funding for family members of missing women, but not for advocacy groups.

“Personally I’m disappointed by this report…and that from what I see, that everything will remain status quo, as it has in the past, and as it will in the future, unless there’s some real, real deep changes to come,” said Marlene George, the chair of the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee.

“We are calling for and want to reiterate the importance of having a national inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women.”

The Native Women's Association of Canada also issued a news release today reiterating their call for a national inquiry focused on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls across Canada.

Representatives of Downtown Eastside and aboriginal groups drummed and sang outside the building where Oppal’s report was released today, and interjected throughout the commissioner’s press conference.

During his comments, Oppal cited the memorable testimony of some of the family members of missing women at the inquiry, such as the story of one mother, who said every time she goes to the supermarket, she expects to see her daughter coming around the corner.

“The heartbreak, the stories that we heard, were just incredible,” he said. “So I would recommend that you read those stories—I would recommend that you take the recommendations seriously, so that we can have some meaningful change. So we don’t have any more Robert Picktons, so we don’t have the conditions that breed the Robert Picktons."

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