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Missing women inquiry has lost credibility with aboriginal community: Grand Chief

BY NEAL HALL, POSTMEDIA NEWS  MARCH 6, 2012

VANCOUVER The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has lost any remaining credibility with the aboriginal community after the withdrawal of a lawyer representing aboriginal interests, the leader of B.C.'s chiefs said Tuesday.

"It has no credibility," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told reporters.

"The aboriginal voice in this inquiry has been relegated to a sideshow."

The inquiry has from its outset drawn criticism from aboriginal groups who argue that the government should have provided funding for lawyers to represent their interests.

Lawyer Robyn Gervais, who was appointed by the inquiry to represent aboriginal issues, told commissioner Wally Oppal she was withdrawing from the inquiry because its focus was too much on police and had not heard from enough aboriginal witnesses.

"Given that these hearings are largely about missing and murdered aboriginal women, I feel I shouldn't have to fight to have the voices of the aboriginal heard," said Gervais, who is Metis.

"The delay in calling aboriginal witnesses, the failure to provide adequate hearing time, the ongoing lack of support from the aboriginal community and the disproportionate focus on police evidence have led me to conclude that aboriginal interests have not and will not be adequately represented in these proceedings," Gervais told Oppal.

"As I leave this inquiry, I regret that I could not find a way to bring the voices of the missing and murdered aboriginal women into this room," she said.

Gervais said she wanted to present evidence to reflect the underlying issues of systemic racism within police forces, the effects of past discriminatory policies and the current systems that place aboriginal women in a vulnerable position.

"While I recognize that it is necessary to hear from police, I became increasingly concerned that you would not hear from aboriginal witnesses," Gervais told Oppal.

She said the inquiry has sat for 53 days, has heard 39 days of police evidence and minimal evidence from the aboriginal community.

Oppal said he was disappointed by Gervais' decision.

"I wanted you to stay to represent aboriginal interests," the commissioner said.

Oppal pointed out that there has been much criticism of police and the commission wants to correct the mistakes made in the past.

He also agreed with Gervais, who complained that of 24 lawyers at the inquiry, most were representing police at taxpayers expense.

"I would prefer that we have fewer lawyers in the room to get things done quicker," Oppal said.

He added he was disappointed that Gervais didn't raise her concerns with him at the inquiry before deciding to withdraw.

"We would have accommodated you," Oppal said.

"It's unfortunate because you had an opportunity to really do something here," he told Gervais.

"You lent a very credible voice to the inquiry," Oppal added, urging her to reconsider her decision.

The inquiry is continuing Tuesday to hear a panel of retired Vancouver police officers who were connected to the city's Downtown Eastside: former deputy chief Gary Greer, former staff-sgt. Chris Beach, former staff-sgt. Doug MacKay-Dunn and former const. Dave Dickson.

Greer testified Tuesday that police managers could not provide resources sooner to investigate the women going missing because there was no evidence to prove they were victims of foul play.

"In hindsight, we should have listened sooner," he said of community concerns that a serial killer was preying on women.

"How did this investigation go off the rails and not complete in 2000? I don't know," Greer said.

Beach said he didn't see a systemic bias against the missing women because they were sex trade workers, many of women were aboriginal.

MacKay-Dunn said there was an attitude among police managers that "they're just prostitutes."

Serial killer Robert Pickton was arrested in 2002, when he told an undercover officer that he killed 49 women.

He was convicted in 2007 at his first trial of six murders.

After Pickton lost all his appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial for another 20 murders.

nhall@vancouversun.com

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

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

Updated: August 21, 2016