Calls for aboriginal woman to lead B.C. missing women inquiry dominate public forum

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      Calls for an aboriginal woman to lead the upcoming provincial inquiry into missing women dominated a public forum in Vancouver on Sunday (December 5).

      Audience members at a forum on violence against women in the Downtown Eastside voiced concerns about next year’s missing women commission of inquiry, to be led by former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal.

      “We’re concerned about a couple of things,” Fay Blaney of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network told the Straight following the event. “One is that Oppal is heading it—that’s a serious concern because we see it as a conflict of interest. This is a guy that didn’t want any inquiry to happen, and now he’s in there, and the second concern is the absolute lack of consultation with the aboriginal community on what the inquiry should be looking at.”

      Vancouver activist and Walk4Justice organizer Gladys Radek said families should be included in the inquiry process.

      “Right now at this time, we feel that the families are not being included in any of the decision-making for this public inquiry,” Radek told audience members at the forum.

      “We feel that it’s important that the families are the ones that we’re speaking about.”

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, supported calls from several speakers at the forum for an aboriginal woman to lead the inquiry.

      “We have to remove Oppal as quickly as possible, and replace him with somebody more appropriate, and we have to broaden the terms of the reference, and it has to be through a consultation process that never happened,” Phillip told the Straight. “It’s got to happen soon.”


      Calls were made at Sunday's public forum for increased consultation with families of missing women, for an aboriginal woman to lead the provincial inquiry, and for the first police task force that investigated women that went missing from the Downtown Eastside to be examined.

      Oppal, who also attended the forum at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, defended the inquiry process in an interview with the Straight following the event.

      “The families are involved in a major way,” he said. “We’ve had a number of lawyers who have come to us—they’re going to seek standing on behalf of the families, and I want the families to get involved.”

      Oppal dismissed claims that he was originally against an inquiry.

      “The only time I opposed the inquiry was when the trial was going on,” he added. “You cannot have a trial under our law and an inquiry at the same time.”

      The forum was hosted by MP Libby Davies, MLA Jenny Kwan, and Vancouver city councillor Ellen Woodsworth.

      “There has been so much grief and tragedy in this neighbourhood, about what’s happened to the missing women, about how the situation was ignored for so long,” Davies said. “For too long it’s been swept under the rug and ignored.”

      Speakers at the event also called for the causes of violence against women to be addressed, and some called for the abolition of prostitution.

      “It seems like the inquiry is going to be looking at largely the police... and there isn’t really any looking at the root causes that bring aboriginal women into being in the Downtown Eastside, being in situations of dire poverty. And people here spoke about child apprehension and our experiences in residential school—all of those things are not going to be even considered,” Blaney told the Straight.

      “We need abolition of prostitution first and foremost, and to look at our circumstance and how aboriginal women are such vulnerable citizens in a rich country like Canada.”




      Dec 5, 2010 at 11:31pm

      I could not agree more. Considering Opal's opposition to the inquiry there would hardly be any moral grounds for the government to protest that there would be any conflict of interest for the women to direct this inquiry. And this is after all the spirit of such processes which seem to be repeatedly coopted by people in and close to law enforcement to quell the likelyhood that any controversies will arise from them.

      Here is a prime opportunity for the government to restore public confidence in the police and the legal system. Let's see if they can stop their damned navel gazing for a moment and do the right thing.

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      Makes sense

      Dec 6, 2010 at 12:02am

      That is just the kind of god damn bloody obvious thinking that leads to results.

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      Dec 6, 2010 at 5:40am

      I wonder how that can happen when approximately 1/3 of the Missing and murdered Vancouver women are First nations and the other 2/3's caucasian, mixed and other? First Nations is not the majority at least in the Pickton case in which this Public Inquiry is for.

      I think it's unlikely to happen.

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      Cut into pieces

      Dec 6, 2010 at 11:29am

      Why would Campbell pick someone no one trusts to head up the inquiry?
      It is more than a slap in the face as all those involved say Oppal is someone no one wants on the job
      So why would Campbell pick Oppal and cause everyone further harm as what does it take to get through this pig hearted government there has been a terrible tradegy public systems helped create and an legitimate inquiry is needed to insure it dosen't happen again. If anything the families need to feel the individual heading the inquiry is with out prejudice and can be trusted but apparently it is all the Liberals have to offer as families are further cut into pieces with OPPAL OFF THE JOB because it is why he was picked in the first place.
      It is a travesty to justice where Campbell says take it or leave it because its not like its been a priority as 50 women butchered says it ALL with more to follow if the Liberals have their way with justice much like Pickton who did them all in.

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      Dec 7, 2010 at 9:46am

      I hope all three levels of Government represented there heard the LOUD and UNANIMOUS cry for the criminalization of the men who pay for sex and the decriminalization of the women.
      I wondering how Libby & Ellen and Katrina (PIVOT) can say they are representing the people, when they heard CLEARLY that no one wants the predatory male behavior of paying for sex legalized or decriminalized or legitimized in any way.
      I hope Oppal ( if he in fact ends up heading the inquiry, which clearly he shouldn't) heard that loud and clear as well, let's stand up for our women and value them by standing up to the men who purposely target them for their own sexual pleasure and the other men who exploit them for their money.

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      Dec 7, 2010 at 12:20pm

      I am really disappointed in this article by a new writer at the Straight who by quoting Abolitionists shows her own bias toward this serious issue regarding harm to sex workers. Equally this is concerning since many sex workers advertise in the Straight as this provides a measure of safety for those involved by choice in the world's oldest profession.

      I am not going to name names here but I was aghast at the number of Aboriginal abolitionists at the forum who are selling the colour of their skin in attempt to mandate prostitution out of existence and this, in my opinion, is absolutely shameful.

      Shouting at those of us who favour decriminalization and screaming that we should hang our heads in shame for pushing decriminalization is disgusting. It is those Aboriginal extremists who are lining up with the American christian right and Stephen Harper led Conservatives who should be hanging their heads in shame.

      Sex workers are equally concerned that there is an over representation of Aboriginal women who have been murdered and that is why we would like the Public Inquiry to have a female co-commissioner, however, we reject that this is an aboriginal only issue and for Native people to keep clubbing non aboriginals over the head essentially attempting them to feel white guilt must stop. It is not productive and only turns people off.

      So to the writer of this unbalanced article, perhaps next time you decide to write a piece on the sex trade you might want to ask sex trade workers for their opinions since historically it has been prostitutes who have lost the most regarding the criminalized/abolitionist perspective.

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Dec 7, 2010 at 5:04pm

      @ Syla: I'm a little happy you posted what you did; it makes it clear that there's not just a little element of sexism in the rally for this inquiry, there's a lot.

      I'm not sure I understand why this is a woman's issue, it's been clear from the beginning that this is a class issue. As for the aboriginal vs. non-aboriginal, this strikes me as the same thing they tried at the Olympics until they were flattened with the ceremonies centered around native culture.


      Dec 9, 2010 at 5:46am


      Really? This is an issue about the "Christian Right Wing"? Because supposedly everyone is not Christian and doesnt support Harper believes that a mans right to have sex supercedes a womans right to have dignity?
      This is simply not true.

      The majority of women that are in the "sex trade" are not women who dreamed of selling their body to the highest bidder. Given the choice, they would gladly do something else. The fact is that this narrow minded "liberal" thinking allows a cycle of poverty, substance abuse and violence to continue. This is not about liberal and conservative thinking or politics. This is about real people who live thier lives with no hope.

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      Walk a mile in their shoes

      Dec 9, 2010 at 9:56am

      I couldn't agree more with a former sex worker and non Aboriginal I would like to state that the harm is in the mental health state that being in the trade for long periods of time will affect. Psychiatric professionals will attest to this. As for the women in this article how can you say they should not feel like they do when you have not walked a mile in their shoes or mine for that matter. You may JamieLee have had great experiences working in the sex trade but most do not. These Aboriginal women have every right to ask for abolition as their women are held sacred. It is not about any right wing Christian or political issue it is about human lives and loss of those whom were held sacred to someone.

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      A women's issue

      Dec 13, 2010 at 12:30pm

      Lord love a duck and a stupid man because both are quakers.
      I beg to differ with 50 women dead if ever there was a women's issue this would be it. Prostitution isn't going anywhere as poverty is entrenced in the system and women are heavily discriminated against as often their work is never done without any pay and a slap to the head. Leading them to the streets without the education to make the difference while hurting within and prostitution needs to be make legal so the women can be safe.

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