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Inquiry urged for B.C.'s missing women

VANCOUVER - A group of native leaders, community activists and victims’ families gathered in Oppenheimer Park this morning to collectively call for a public inquiry into missing and murdered women in British Columbia.

The inquiry should look into the case of the 65 women missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, six of whom serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton has been convicted of killing.

It should also examine the case of 18 murdered or missing women in the so-called Highway of Tears case in rural B.C., Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said in an interview.

Phillip and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association sent letters outlining their request Wednesday to Premier Gordon Campbell, Attorney-General Wally Oppal, and Solicitor General John van Dongan. Victims’ families attended the rally today, and have long believed that society paid little attention to their loved ones vanishing from the Downtown Eastside because they were poor, marginalized women, many of them Aboriginal.

“This situation was allowed to continue a very, very long time. It spanned a couple of decades. Had there been an immediate response on behalf of the Vancouver police, the RCMP and the criminal justice branch, we suggest lives could have been saved,” Phillip said.

Phillip argued the same systemic issues exist in the Highway of Tears case, which has not resulted in any suspects being arrested yet.

Oppal repeated Wednesday what he has said in the past: It is unlikely any inquiry would be held until the Pickton case is no longer before the courts. "I'm really sympathetic to [the victims’ families]. We all want to find out what happened. But the missing women's case is really a part of the Pickton case, and that matter is still before the court of appeal,” Oppal said in Victoria. "We can't order any inquiry, it would be totally improper for us until the courts have finally and completely disposed of the charges."

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder.

An appeal of the verdict is scheduled for two weeks, starting March 30.

However, Phillip and others fear the case could drag through the courts for years while Pickton exhausts the appeal process.

Pickton has also been charged with killing 20 other missing women, but it is also not clear whether that trial will ever be held.

Waiting several more years for an inquiry would be wrong, “given the frailty of human memories, the loss or destruction of relevant evidence with time, and the retirement or death of key witnesses,” says the letter sent to the politicians.

If the government does not grant an inquiry soon, Phillip said, those in attendance at today’s rally threatened to stage demonstrations during the 2010 Olympics to “draw this to the attention of the international community.”

“The families are sick and tired of being stonewalled,” he added.

David Eby, of the civil liberties association, also called on the government to cover expenses for victims’ families to attend Pickton’s appeal, as it did for the families during his 2007 trial.

And Eby said the group would like assurances that Pickton’s second trial on 20 counts of first-degree murder will proceed.

The government has indicated it may not, should the defence fail in its appeal bid, as Pickton is already serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

lculbert@vancouversun.com

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

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

Updated: August 21, 2016