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Oppal pleads co-operation from critics in missing women inquiry

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE  APRIL 2, 2012

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry began its final 20 days of hearings Monday with an appeal by Commissioner Wally Oppal to his critics to set aside their objections “so that another monster cannot prey on vulnerable women.

“We cannot let the Willy Picktons of the world triumph,” said Oppal, as the inquiry resumed after a three-week adjournment, due in part to the withdrawal of First Nations lawyer Robyn Gervais, who charged that aboriginal concerns were being ignored.

Oppal said he must “investigate how a serial killer was able to prey on our most vulnerable women for an extended period of time without being caught.”

Although Oppal said his aboriginal critics are “not wrong” that issues like colonization and residential schools should be considered, he said his focus is “regional policing” when more than one force tries to stop a serial killer.

Families of 25 murdered women were unmoved by Oppal’s appeal, noting he made no mention of extending his deadline of a final report by the end of June.

“It’s absolutely insane to have taken three weeks off when time is of the essence. The deadline has to be extended but Oppal didn’t mention that,” said an angry Lilliane Beaudoin, whose sister Dianne Rock was murdered by Pickton.

Beaudoin, from Welland, Ont., has attended almost every day of the inquiry.

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has repeatedly refused to extend the inquiry’s deadline, saying Oppal must stick to his time and budget restraints.

Now boycotted by every key First Nations and women’s group, Oppal admitted the inquiry has “become a lightning rod for criticism ... anger and frustration by many people who feel let down by police, government and this Commission.”

The inquiry’s narrow time frame is from 1997 — when Robert “Willy” Pickton was charged but never tried for the attempted murder of a Vancouver woman — until he was finally arrested in 2002.

Pickton confessed to killing 49 women but was convicted of killing six.

On Monday, the panel heard from Vancouver police officers George Lawson and Jay Johns, who worked with the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society, and Freda Ens, its former director, and Morris Bates, who also worked there.

Lawson, originally from the Port Simpson Tsimshian First Nation, told the inquiry that many aboriginal people gravitate to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after fleeing poverty or violence on their home reserve.

“Many aboriginal people come to the city for education, or to escape victimization at home,” said Lawson, agreeing with the inquiry’s new aboriginal lawyer Elizabeth Hunt that First Nations are “grossly over-represented” and women especially vulnerable on the Downtown Eastside.

Lawson agreed many aboriginal people felt better talking to a native cop although he said dealt with a “mix” of people while patrolling the eastside.

Ens and Bates both related the frustrations that families of missing women felt in the late ‘90s, trying to get the VPD to take a missing persons report.

The panel agreed that civilian VPD clerk Sandy Cameron gave short shrift to aboriginal families, even telling distraught mother Dorothy Purcell that her daughter Tanya Holyk was “off doing drugs” after abandoning her child.

Cameron also was heard to say the VPD wasn’t “offering a babysitting service.”

The inquiry has heard from 32 witnesses over 64 days. It has released eight study reports and three more will be done.

sfournier@theprovince.com

twitter.com/suzannefournier

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016