Human rights groups pan B.C. missing women inquiry ahead of final report
Less than two weeks before Wally Oppal is scheduled to deliver his final report on B.C.’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, three human rights groups are calling the process a “failure”.
In a report entitled Blueprint for an Inquiry released today by West Coast LEAF, Pivot Legal Society, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the groups outline a series of criticisms and recommendations for future inquiry processes involving marginalized groups.
The B.C. inquiry led by Oppal, which began evidentiary hearings in October 2011, was established to examine the police investigations of missing women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the years leading up to Robert Pickton’s arrest. Over a dozen community groups withdrew from the process before it began, and frequent protests were held outside the inquiry in downtown Vancouver.
In their report, the three groups argue that the inquiry excluded the voices of those that “it should have worked hardest to include,” such as aboriginal women, sex workers, and women living in poverty who were affected by the Pickton murders.
“This inquiry was a missed opportunity to include the voices of marginalized women, of marginalized communities, and those who were directly impacted by the subject matter of the inquiry. It perpetuated the very problems it sought to alleviate,” Kasari Govender, the executive director of West Coast LEAF, said at a press conference at the Carnegie Centre today (November 19).
The report also criticizes the terms of reference for the inquiry as too narrow. The inquiry was mandated to examine police investigations conducted between January 1997 and February 2002 of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside.
“Financially, the Commission spent twenty times the operating budget of the major drop in centre for sex workers in Vancouver, and yet left many of the community’s most pressing questions unanswered,” the report reads. “Given the nature of an inquiry as seeking systemic reforms, terms of reference must be broad enough to capture systemic factors and causes.”
The report also recommends that legal protections for marginalized witnesses be established at the outset of proceedings, such as anonymity and publication bans. Other recommendations include a call for inquiries to be launched “as soon as is practically possible” after the event in question.
Representatives of the three legal groups said while they still “hold out hope” for Oppal’s final report, they maintain it won’t address what they say are flaws with the process.
“Every day that this inquiry went on, you saw aboriginal women outside on the street protesting, not inside the inquiry testifying, and regardless of the quality of the recommendations that come forward, those process flaws need to be addressed,” said Lindsay Lyster, the president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
In a written statement issued by Oppal today, the commissioner asked the groups to read his report when it’s released “with an open mind”.
“My report puts forward strong recommendations for change and it is imperative that everyone comes together to ensure that we can better protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Oppal said in the statement.
“The only way this can happen is if we come together as a community to ensure that the recommendations are acted upon.”
Oppal is scheduled to deliver his final report to the B.C. government by November 30, 2012.