VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Missing Woman Commission hears from groups seeking official status
By GERRY BELLETT, Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER -- Missing women's inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal appealed Monday to dozens of lawyers representing scores of special interest groups to form coalitions so the inquiry into what went wrong in the Robert Pickton case can proceed in an orderly fashion.
"We want recommendations and advice," he told the horde of lawyers whose clients are seeking official standing for when the commission begins hearing evidence.
"We want to write a thorough report but we don't want to hear the same submissions over and over again."
The groups include first nations organizations, advocates for women and women's equality, those representing the interests of sex-trade workers or drug users, anti-poverty groups, social activists, legal and social organizations.
The object isn't to force people into coalitions, Oppal said.
"We want to hear from everyone. We are dealing with important issues. Horrible tragedies have taken place and we want to know what happened."
Earlier, he opened the proceedings by referring to the enormity of Pickton's crimes.
"The Pickton trial and investigation revealed some of the most horrific crimes in Canadian history. Crimes against women, crimes against vulnerable women and crimes against all of us.
"While the conclusion of the legal proceedings answered some of the questions as far as the guilt of the accused was concerned, there remain many questions outstanding and unanswered. We will attempt to find those answers," said Oppal, a former B.C. Supreme Court justice and attorney-general.
The commission will probe the actions of the various police agencies that dealt with the missing women cases and the investigation of Pickton from Jan. 23, 1997, to Feb. 5, 2002. It will also probe the actions of the criminal justice branch in deciding to stop legal proceedings against Pickton for attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault on Jan. 27, 1998.
Five of the six women Pickton was convicted of murdering were killed after those charges were stayed. His victims were from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and many of them were from first nations communities.
The commission is also charged with investigating episodes of missing women in other areas of the province and suspected multiple murders there.
Among those seeking status are east Vancouver's Crab Water for Life Society; former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, now a university professor; the Women's Equality and Security Coalition, made up of 11 groups including Vancouver Rape Relief; and the Assembly of First Nations.
A number of agencies, such as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International, quickly agreed to form coalitions, telling Oppal their concerns could be addressed together.
But others such as the Assembly of First Nations asked to be given independent standing.
Saskatchewan lawyer Donald Worme, representing the assembly, said the inquiry would cover matters of national interest and would delve into systemic racism against Canada's first nation peoples.
He said the AFN's participation would "bring some degree of confidence" to the process for those outside the province who had legitimate concerns.
Other first nation groups such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, represented by lawyer Beverly Jacobs, also argued for independent status, saying the union was a political entity representing the interests of 98 first nations in the province.
Gwen Brodsky, representing the 11-group Women's Equality and Security Coalition, said it would be difficult to instruct counsel if any more members were added to their coalition.
Among the groups already accorded standing are the Department of Justice representing the RCMP; the City of Vancouver representing the Vancouver Police; and the Crown counsel office representing the provincial government. Lawyer Cameron Ward, representing families of eight of the missing women — three of whom Pickton was convicted of murdering — has also been granted standing.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016