Pivot Legal Society has announced they are withdrawing from B.C.'s missing women inquiry, due to the provincial government’s refusal to fund the participation of aboriginal groups and organizations representing women and sex workers.
“The way things have turned out, our feeling is just that the inquiry is not in the best position to answer the questions that we want to answer,” Pivot lawyer Doug King told the Straight by phone today (September 20).
“You’ve got a fact-finding tribunal basically set up where every police officer and every official is going to be able to testify with a lawyer, and every vulnerable person or community person who wants to talk about women’s safety issues is going to be expected to represent themselves, and that’s just not an environment where the right information is going to come up.”
Pivot’s move follows the withdrawal of several other groups from the inquiry, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Cuncil, and the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association, due to a lack of resources to participate in the process.
Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal recommended that legal representation for 13 groups be funded by the province. The B.C. government opted to cover the legal costs of families of Robert Pickton’s victims, but cited limited resources in their decision not to fund the participation of advocacy groups.
Oppal has since appointed two independent lawyers to represent the unfunded groups at the inquiry – a move that King called a “last-ditch effort”.
Instead of participating in the inquiry, King said Pivot Legal Society plans to launch an affidavit campaign to assess how much has changed for sex workers and other vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside trying to report violence.
“We’re hoping to get a snapshot of what it’s like for women in vulnerable situations and situations of violence now,” he said.
“What we’re hoping is that in part it can be a comparison to what the inquiry finds...if the inquiry says these were the problems in 2002, what we hope is our information might be able to say have these problems really been solved, is it any different today.”
Art Vertlieb, legal counsel for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, released a statement today indicating the commission's understanding is that "most of the groups that were granted standing will participate when hearings begin in Vancouver on October 11."
"These include the families of 14 of Robert Pickton’s victims who, along with many other British Columbians, have questions about the Pickton investigation that need answers," Vertlieb said in the statement.
The missing women inquiry, which is scheduled to begin hearings on October 11 in Vancouver, will examine police investigations into women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 1997 and February 2002.