VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
First Nation leaders say missing women's commission has no credibility
SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE MARCH 8, 2012
It is too late for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to restore its credibility with the Downtown Eastside and First Nations communities who lost so many women to serial killer Robert Pickton.
That was the consensus Thursday among First Nations leaders, in the wake of the high-profile withdrawal this week of lawyer Robyn Gervais, who was appointed by the commission last August to represent aboriginal interests.
“The inquiry lost credibility at the mass exodus of all the First Nations, Downtown Eastside and women’s groups who were denied funding,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who was in court to hear Gervais give a 51-point critique of the inquiry’s failure to heed First Nations concerns.
“Robyn Gervais tried very hard and she was rebuffed, now there is no time for meaningful First Nations input,” said Phillip.
According to inquiry sources, commission staff have been scrambling to replace Gervais by speaking to aboriginal rights lawyers, seeking input.
Steven Kelliher, a highly respected Victoria lawyer who represented the family of Mi’kmaq Frank Paul in the public inquiry into Paul’s death, said “I do believe First Nations should be fully-represented at this [missing women] inquiry.”
Kelliher would not confirm or deny if he was contacted by commission staff.
Cameron Ward, lawyer for the families of 25 murdered women, many of them aboriginal, said it would be “impossible” for any lawyer to step into the inquiry now, with six weeks of testimony slated for more police witnesses.
Ward noted there are 100,000 pages of documents filed and the inquiry has heard dozens of witnesses already.
“It’s too little, too late, for the inquiry to understand the deaths of our mothers, aunties, sisters in historical context,” said Phillip.
“Even if the inquiry is narrowly focussed on the police investigations, we all know the police failed, and now they won’t be held accountable.
“We will continue to support grieving families in every way we can.”
Aboriginal women, forced into urban poverty, make up a majority of survival sex workers on the Downtown Eastside, although only four per cent of B.C.’s population claims aboriginal ancestry.
Pickton, convicted of killing six women but linked to the death of at least 33 women, preyed on drug-sick and desperate Downtown Eastside women.
A disproportionate number of his victims were of aboriginal ancestry.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, who has pledged to hand in his final report by June 30, said he was “disppointed” at Gervais’ withdrawal but will “forge on,” noting his terms of reference are focussed on the police investigations into Pickton from 1997 to 2002.
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Updated: August 21, 2016