Another year has passed, and although some progress has been made on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, the bleak fact remains that a multitude of them are still inexplicably gone, or their deaths are unsolved.
On February 13 hundreds of people poured into Vancouver for the 21st annual march in solidarity with the missing women, many of them aboriginal and a large proportion from the city’s seedy Downtown East Side—women among the 700 or more who have disappeared or been murdered without a resolution to their case over the past 20 years. See Indian Country Today Media Network’s coverage of this issue by Valerie Taliman.
“We are here to honor and remember the women, and we are here because we are failing to protect women from the degradation of poverty and systemic exploitation, abuse and violence,” said Marlene George, Memorial March Committee organizer, in a statement on February 10. “We are here in sorrow and in anger because the violence continues each and every day, and the list of missing and murdered women gets longer every year.”
Marches are also scheduled in a dozen or more cities, including Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Penticton, Calgary, Kelowna, Merritt, Thunder Bay and London, the organizing groups said. At the Vancouver event friends and family members, led by indigenous women, will march through the Downtown East Side, praying and offering medicines and roses in ceremonies of remembrance. They will be joined by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.
In the past year the province of British Columbia has convened a special panel, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, to look into the underpinnings of the investigation into the spree of serial killer Robert Pickton, who operated unfettered for years, murdering mostly aboriginal women on his pig farm. More recently the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee and the DTES Women’s Centre have requested a review from the United Nations under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in order to set the matter solidly upon the international stage.
“The commission continues the pattern of grave and systemic discrimination against women in the Downtown Eastside which the commission was supposed to investigate,” the groups said in the February 10 statement.
On February 13 the groups held a rally against what they called the “sham inquiry” of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, the investigation into the Robert Pickton case. The Oppal Commission, named after its chair, former justice Wally Oppal, is charged with finding out how he was able to troll the Downtown Eastside for years amassing victims.
In doing so the commission is attempting to dig out the underlying attitudes that caused the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to fail to take the complaints of the women’s families seriously enough to pursue the case vigorously. The RCMP has already apologized before the commission, though not to the families in person, for botching the investigation. The Vancouver police department has done the same.
However the commission has been plagued with controversy since the get-go because the British Columbia government refused to fund the legal expertise that many aboriginal advocacy groups would have had to hire in order to properly present testimony. As a result, several dropped out of the proceedings, even though they had been granted standing.
“We are boycotting this sham inquiry because we have been shut out from it and it has continued to marginalize the voices and experiences of women from the DTES,” said George. “Women continue to go missing or be murdered with no action from any level of government to address these tragedies or gendered violence, poverty, racism or colonialism.”