Questions raised over scope of Pickton inquiry and independence of commissioner Wally Oppal

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      Vancouver East MP Libby Davies says former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal will likely face scrutiny in his role as head of the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton serial killings.

      “I think there may be concerns that because of his former association as a minister with the government, he’s going to have to demonstrate that he is truly independent,” Davies told the Straight by phone from Ottawa.

      “He’s there to represent the public interest, and he will have to show all of us that that’s what he is going to do,” she said.

      B.C.’s current attorney general, Michael de Jong, announced Oppal’s appointment today (September 28) as commissioner of the missing women inquiry, which will examine police investigations and make recommendations. A final report is expected in late 2011.

      Oppal was attorney general from 2005 to 2009 and has served on the B.C. Supreme Court and on the B.C. Court of Appeal. In the 1990s, he led an inquiry into policing in B.C.

      De Jong was not available for comment and Oppal did not immediately return a call from the Straight. But Oppal has defended his ability to remain impartial, according to a CKNW report.

      Meanwhile, Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, welcomed Oppal’s appointment.

      “I think those of us who’ve followed him know that he’s a man of integrity, really a groundbreaking person in many ways,” said Wong, who participated as a witness during Oppal’s policing inquiry.

      “I’m sure that he will, given the proper resources, get to the bottom of this. It will be a sound inquiry,” Wong told the Straight by phone. “I would urge all of the parties to work with this process because I think that the appointment is a very solid one.”

      Speaking with the Straight, Davies also raised concerns the scope of the Pickton public inquiry is too narrow.

      According to details the Ministry of Attorney General released today, the inquiry is to examine how, from January 23, 1997 to February 5, 2002, police investigated the disappearances from the Downtown Eastside.

      The inquiry is also to look into a decision in 1998 to stay charges for the assault of a sex trade worker against Pickton, who was eventually convicted on six murder counts and lost an appeal to Canada’s top court.

      Davies said the missing women issue reaches back to the 1980s and involves broad questions about prejudice toward sex trade workers and policing.

      She also expressed uncertainty about the role Downtown Eastside groups and relatives of missing women will play in the inquiry process.

      “We’ve fought long and hard for a public inquiry,” said Davies, who was first elected as Vancouver East MP in 1997 and served on Vancouver city council throughout the 1980s.

      “It’s got to be a public inquiry that means something, most of all to the very people who are impacted.”

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      Sep 28, 2010 at 2:16pm

      BC Opposition Leader Carole James told the media earlier that there are problems with the selection of Wally Oppal, despite his knowledge and expertise.


      Earlier, B.C. NDP leader Carole James called on the provincial government to reconsider the appointment of Mr. Oppal as head of the Pickton inquiry.

      The appointment should be put off until aboriginal groups, women and the families of the victims have been consulted, she said.

      “Wally Oppal certainly has a lot of skills and abilities but I do worry once again that the government is not talking to the people who are going to be directly impacted,” Ms. James said Tuesday in an interview.

      Ms. James said she is concerned that some people believe the former Liberal politician is too close to the Liberal government. “He was part of this government, he was attorney-general, so he was in a key position. I think there is a perception there may not be independence there,” she said.

      “That is not the way you want to start off and resolve the issues and concerns that are out there on the Pickton investigation.”

      “Perceptions, whether reality or not, cause concern,” she said.

      “The government needs to sit down and talk to the community and see whether it can be resolved.”

      Would it be unduly suspicious to suggest that The Straight intentionally omitted her comments, because they don't want to do her any favours?

      Rod Smelser

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 28, 2010 at 3:20pm

      I've sent a message to Carole James's press secretary asking if she would like to comment on the appointment of Wally Oppal as the commissioner of the inquiry.

      I have also requested an interview with Mr. Oppal.

      If either of them speak to me, their comments will appear on this site.

      Charlie Smith