Scope of B.C. missing women inquiry questioned at forum in Vancouver

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      Advocates for the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside are questioning whether a provincial inquiry has a broad enough scope to properly examine the disappearances and deaths of women in the Vancouver neighbourhood.

      At a pre-hearing forum on Wednesday (January 19), commissioner Wally Oppal heard from representatives of community organizations, residents, politicians, and other advocates, many of whom said the upcoming Missing Women Commission of Inquiry’s terms of reference and timeline are too narrow.

      Many speakers also paid emotional tribute to the dozens of women who have gone missing from the area, and questioned why their disappearances weren’t investigated earlier.

      Vancouver East MP Libby Davies told Oppal that the commission’s report should be hard-hitting and cause “shockwaves” as to what happened, and why.

      “Your biggest challenge in this public inquiry is to produce a report that cannot be ignored, cannot be forgotten, cannot be dismissed,” Davies told Oppal.

      “The reality is, for over two decades, the city, province, federal government, and law enforcement agencies decided that the steady disappearance of women, mostly aboriginal and mostly working in the sex trade, was not worthy of committing the needed resources to put a stop to it. We’re here to ask why.”

      The commission has been asked to examine the conduct of the police investigation into missing women of the Downtown Eastside from 1997 to 2002, and to investigate why an attempted murder charge against Robert Pickton was stayed in 1998. The commission will also make recommendations for police investigations of missing women, and for murder investigations when multiple police forces are involved.

      Marlene George of the Women’s Memorial March Committee questioned the timeline of the inquiry’s investigation.

      “How did the commission of inquiry come up with the dates of between January 23, 1997, and February 5, 2002?” she asked. “What in those dates is more significant than previous dates of known missing women?”

      George said her committee has been asking for an inquiry for a long time.

      “The failure to act when lives could have been saved is what’s going to come out in the public inquiry process,” she said.

      “The committee for years was asking the police to properly investigate the case of increasing numbers of women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside community.”

      Bernie Williams, cofounder of the Walk 4 Justice march for missing women, asked Oppal why the first murdered and missing women police task force hasn’t been investigated.

      “Mr Oppal, this has been a long journey for a lot of us women,” she told the commissioner. “Why did it take 69 women before they acted?”

      She also asked why Downtown Eastside community organizations haven’t yet been granted standing to address the commission.

      “If this is a public inquiry, why aren’t they allowed to sit on this, and why are we not allowed to be a part of the process?” she asked.

      According to Oppal, the commission has granted status to four groups so far: the Vancouver Police Department, the RCMP, the criminal justice branch, and representatives of victim’s families, as represented by Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward.

      Oppal said another pre-hearing conference will be held on January 31 with other groups seeking participant status.

      Ward, who is representing the families of eight women that were murdered or allegedly murdered by Robert Pickton, said many of the families are skeptical about the inquiry process.

      “Many of the family members that I represent...remain quite bitter and angry by the ways that they perceive that the system failed them when they reported their concerns that their loved ones were going missing,” said Ward.

      “I feel obliged to say that some were skeptical that this inquiry, with its current structure and its narrow terms of reference, will effectively address their lingering concerns.”

      Gladys Radek, who with Williams coordinates Walk 4 Justice, said the public inquiry is the “tip of the iceberg.”

      She wants to see a federal public inquiry into missing and murdered women across the country. The group has compiled over 4,000 names of missing and murdered women across the country.

      Oppal told reporters following the meeting that the government sets the terms of reference for the commission. He acknowledged that while the timeline examined by the commission is a “major criticism” from some community and family members, he said it would be premature to say whether the commission will approach the government about changing the terms of reference.

      The commission is scheduled to begin formal hearings by June, and will deliver a report by the end of the year.



      Stephen Blumsein

      Jan 31, 2011 at 4:02pm

      "Wally Oppal, QC, has been named Commissioner.

      Under the Terms of Reference, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will:

      a) inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the conduct of the investigations conducted between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, by police forces in British Columbia respecting women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside of the city of Vancouver;

      b) inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault;

      c) recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides; and

      d) recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in British Columbia by more than one investigating organization, including the co-ordination of those investigations."

      As you can easily see from these four terms of reference, findings of fact regarding police conduct,the C.J.B. stay, changes to the initiation and conduct of B.C. police investigations, and changes respecting homicide investigations, the scope of the Oppal Inquiry is much too narrow. I attended the second Vancouver Missing Womens Inquiry on Howe Street today, and most of the speakers were lawyers representing coalitions, I guess to save time, of womens groups naturally concerned about violence against women, systemic gender and race discrimination, and protecting sex trade workers.

      In fact, only the BCCLA,.Pivot Society and Amnesty International coalition, as well as Mr. Cameron Ward's eight (8) clients, Vandu (7 members) and a coalition representing P.A.C.E., the Wish Foundation and another D.T.E.S. womens group can possibly get to the nitty gritty:

      Who killed the other 48 ?

      So many numbers have been quoted like stats that the value of these innocent murdered womens lives has been irretrievably diminished. Everybody, and I mean the whole kit and kaboodle, of street people on the D.T.E.S. believes that these women were victims of another kind of coalition: the need to party. Over the years, I have heard from friends of the cops and the Hells Angels that parties were going on at Pictons farm, complete with a stage for musicians, booze, drugs and w.h.y.. If these allegations are true, we all know why this commission is a sham, and was only designed to satisfy political expediency requirements before a provincial election.
      Well, as a criminology graduate with inside information, I for one will not let this joke of a commission get in the way of the truth. There are other ways to get at it besides hoping we'll all just disappear. These women knew too much and as such were expendable, and once again, just like gentrification, it's the elite that's responsible. No wonder there are so many anarchists in Vancouver now. Why believe in a corrupt system that exposes itself so openly to criticism that a crisis of confidence in authority ensues, threatening the very fabric of social democracy ? Rebellion is our right!!!!!