VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Real inquiry needed into Pickton killings
Oppal commission should focus on police errors during investigation
By Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and Doug Kelly, Special to Times Colonist
Earlier this month, we joined Ernie Crey in a meeting with Wally Oppal, the recently appointed head of the misnamed "missing women commission."
We were direct yet constructive in our talks with Oppal. We shared our concerns with his appointment and the narrow inquiry terms of reference. Crey, whose sister's DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm, and other families want a properly mandated public inquiry to get underway in a good way.
Upon reflection, we don't see that the mandate of this inquiry or the ability of Oppal to have the support of the families is commensurate with the serious magnitude of the issues.
The inquiry has to start with the support of the victims' families. It has to begin with their endorsement because it is the right thing to do. It cannot be kept secret then announced assuming everyone (especially the excluded) will jump on board.
The first priority for First Nations is always to comfort the victims. If that isn't right, not much else will be.
And we don't think it is there.
The neutrality of the commissioner is important and we wanted to give Oppal the benefit of the doubt, even though we knew he was the attorney general who decided not to pursue the prosecutions for the other missing and murdered women.
But indigenous women deserve better and so do British Columbians. The Oppal commission can do its work because those who called it are too narrow-minded to put the issue out properly or ask someone independent of government to do it right.
Don't call it a missing women commission. That's an insult to the women who died because their lives are not in scope of the mandate of this inquiry.
We were surprised and caught off-guard when Oppal told the media, following our meeting, that "the chiefs are happy with the appointment ... and they had suggestions as to how we should conduct the hearings and how we should conduct the inquiry."
Allow us to clarify.
Too many indigenous girls and women escape to the streets. This has been a burden to all First Nations communities for some time. It is a source of anger and distrust in justice systems and places our girls and women at continuing risk.
The social safety net and justice system seem to fail these vulnerable girls and women. Many have been in the child welfare system, others lack the supports needed for success at home and in school.
And indigenous girls and women are often the target of those who would abuse and demean women, with sexual, physical and racial violence. Serial killers, rapists and others target and attack our girls and women on the Highway of Tears and in other parts of Canada, just as Pickton did in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and on his farm.
A properly mandated inquiry would have understanding the changes needed in the lives of marginalized indigenous girls and women as a key priority.
But this inquiry is missing something important. It isn't about the missing women. It isn't even about understanding the circumstances that place indigenous women at risk of predatory or other violence.
It's about a police investigation during one small period of time.
For that reason, it cannot honour or do justice to those who died, or those who live in the shadows of violence and abuse.
Many of these women were status Indians and lived under a federal regime of regulation in their bands.
Yet this isn't even a federal-provincial commission of inquiry to ensure that we learn in B.C., and elsewhere in Canada, how best to make those changes that would have saved the lives of the Pickton victims.
When Donald Marshall Jr. was wrongfully convicted of murder, a federal-provincial royal commission was called to inquire into the circumstances that would cause a young indigenous boy to be targeted and wrongfully jailed.
Much good work came out of that commission and change happened because the federal and provincial justice systems opened their minds to the possibility of systemic problems. What we have here isn't even close to this.
Ernie Crey wants this inquiry to find answers for his family and other families. He would like to see policing, justice, victim and child welfare services reviewed carefully for each victim and the systemic issues explored and recommendations made and implemented so this never happens again.
Crey wants this inquiry to help break the cycle of poverty, addictions and sexual and family violence.
We believe other families share Ernie's desire for truth, social justice and significant change in those agencies charged with protecting the most vulnerable.
We must turn these horrific serial murders into a full exploration of how to protect and support women, especially indigenous women.
We will be left with the most important question -- why were the lives of these and so many other indigenous women in Canada not adequately supported, and how could our systems treat them, and others, as something to be thrown away, then put to the bottom of the heap in pursuing their murderers and abusers? Probably because we didn't care enough to make it different.
We can't let that happen again. Join us in calling for a real inquiry that puts the lives of those victims at the forefront.
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Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Grand Chief Doug Kelly is chairman of the First Nations Health Council.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
Updated: August 21, 2016