Libby Davies: Will Wally Oppal's missing women report change anything?
On December 17, 2012, I attended the release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report in Vancouver, and heard the comments and recommendations of Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.
Much will be said about his report in the coming days and weeks. Did it go far enough? Why were Downtown Eastside community and advocacy groups shut out of the process? Was it focused too narrowly on policing questions that arose over so many decades? All of these questions are important and legitimate.
The most important question is: what will happen now? The real test is whether or not the 63 recommendations will be implemented and when, even knowing they don't go far enough for many of those who have been involved.
First and foremost, I want to pay tribute to the family members, friends, and the Downtown Eastside community, who have endured much, grieved a loss of a community of women, and yet refused to be silenced or placated. I know the community will carefully examine every detail of the report and level all the criticisms that need to be heard, because the community is so deeply invested in what should have be done; what could have been done; and what wasn’t done over so many years.
There is scepticism. I heard it from many people on Monday. I feel it myself. We ask the question; will this report actually mean anything - will anything change?
I appeared before the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Community Engagement Forum in January 2011, before the formal Inquiry began and offered my suggestions to Commissioner Oppal then, as to what he needed to focus on.
I hoped the Inquiry would take as broad a view as possible, including exposing underlying issues of poverty, racism, and inequality and discrimination against sex workers.
I was disappointed to see that the Inquiry report did not recommend any changes to deal with the impact of the existing criminal code specifications for sex work; these laws are harmful and that contributed to the enormous risk these women face.
It was important and significant that the Inquiry, and Commissioner Oppal in his remarks, addressed issues of systemic bias against Aboriginal women.
As a federal representative I pay close attention to the federal issues involved here. Federal New Democrats have consistently supported the call for a national inquiry. In response to the report released today that demand to the federal government is still relevant and necessary. The Inquiry in BC focussed primarily on what happened in the Downtown Eastside. The reality is, this is also an issue of enormous significance across the country. It is an issue that deeply affects aboriginal women who face an alarming level of violence and an issue that faces all women, especially those who are marginalized. The fact that more than 500 Aboriginal women are missing and murdered is as tragically evident today, as it ever was.
The federal government must pay heed to the Inquiry recommendations and demonstrate its commitment to follow through in a timely and proper way.
Demands for a federal inquiry on all missing women will continue to be called for until it happens. We will support that demand.
The federal government must come to terms with the grievous injustices facing Aboriginal people, and especially women, and respond in a way that acknowledges the historic, racism, inequality, poverty, and discrimination that resulted from a history of colonialism in Canada.
The typical and failed response we've come to expect from the federal government, based on a partisan "law and order" approach, will not change these injustices.
The federal government must listen to community voices who know the truth and know what must be done.
I will continue to speak out on this issue as I have done for almost 3 decades. What has happened in the Downtown Eastside is a long and tragic story.
Last night I attended the 10th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Walk, and was proud to stand beside so many community allies who have fought for the rights and protection of the women of our community.
The Inquiry report, even with its shortcomings, and flawed process, must compel us all, to hold all governments to account in memory of the women who were "forsaken".