The British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is about to take to the road with a series of forums in nine communities in northern B.C. between September 12 and 22, pressing on even as at least four aboriginal groups have opted out of participating in October hearings because they cannot afford to.
The groups—the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C., and the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, which provides outreach to sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—have all said they can’t afford to participate in the proceedings without financial assistance, which the provincial government has deemed to be too steep at about $1.5 million. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has also protested, calling for a national commission on missing and aboriginal women and girls as a way to keep the proceedings above board.
“The Government of British Columbia has shut us out of the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry,” NWAC President Corbiere Lavell said, “and now we have no confidence that it will be able to produce a fair and balanced report. The decision of the B.C. government to restrict funding for counsel primarily to police and government agencies demonstrates how flawed and one-sided this process has become.”
Even the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has weighed in.
“Frankly it’s a very small amount of money,” B.C. Civil Liberties Association Executive Director David Eby told CBC News on July 29. “We’re talking about $100 million to bring Pickton to trial and to deal with this, about two percent of that is what we’re talking about in terms of dealing with systemic issues—about $1.5 to $2 million to provide funding for groups that need to be represented in this inquiry.”
For its part, the government said the groups fall outside the purview of the commission, according to a letter sent by Deputy Attorney General David Loukidelis to commission head Wally Oppal.
“The Attorney-General does not believe that public funding of multiple teams of lawyers for inquiry participants other than the families of missing and murdered women is a higher priority than such other matters,” wrote Loukidelis to Oppal, according to media reports.
The hearings will examine why confessed serial killer Robert Pickton was never noticed by Vancouver police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as he killed up to 49 women, most of them sex workers and an inordinate number of them aboriginal, over several years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Arrested in 2002, he confessed to killing the 49, but the DNA of 33 was found on his farm, and he was only convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
But the inquiry will also delve into the underlying problem of missing and murdered women province-wide, especially along the so-called Highway of Tears in the north. Hearings begin on October 11 in Vancouver.
“The whole issue of integrity of the process itself is becoming a matter of major concern,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the chiefs’ union told the Straight by phone. “Needless to say we’re extremely upset, we’re deeply angered, we’re astounded at the level of hypocrisy that shrouds this issue in terms of the provincial government paying lip service to the need to address the issue of missing and murdered women.”
More information is in Valerie Taliman’s series on missing and murdered women written exclusively for Indian Country Today Media Network.