The list of aboriginal groups dropping out of the British Columbia Missing Women Inquiry Commission is growing, as two more groups of the 13 originally granted standing announced on August 9 that they also will not participate in October hearings.
The Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC) and West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) withdrew from the Missing Women Inquiry because of the provincial government’s refusal to help community groups defray legal expenses associated with participating. The government has agreed to fund an attorney to represent victims’ families before the commission, but declined to do so for the groups representing aboriginal communities and the areas that were affected by serial killer Robert Pickton’s years-long rampage through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Wally Oppal, the inquiry commissioner, granted standing to 13 community groups back in May, recommending that they receive funding because their participation was integral to the commission’s work. The province declined to fund them.
“The failure to fund counsel for aboriginal, sex worker and front line women’s organizations essentially shuts these groups out of the inquiry,” said EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous in a statement. “We will not participate in an inquiry that will not listen to the voices of those who were closest to the missing and murdered women and their communities.”
They join four other groups that withdrew in late July.
West Coast LEAF spokesperson Kasari Govender said the refusal flies in the face of Premier Christy Clark’s previous statements about British Columbia’s commitment to the safety of aboriginal women.
“The government’s decision on funding indicates that they don’t take seriously the safety of aboriginal women, sex workers and women living in poverty,” Govender said. “The failure to provide adequate resources at this early stage does not bode well for the government’s commitment to implementing the commissioner’s final recommendations.”
The commission is examining the reasons behind the failure of Vancouver police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to apprehend Pickton, who was convicted of killing six women but who told undercover police he’d killed 49. DNA or remains from 33 women were found on his farm. More information is in Valerie Taliman’s series on missing and murdered women written exclusively for Indian Country Today Media Network.