National inquiry sought over missing and murdered aboriginal women
- National inquiry sought over missing and murdered aboriginal women
By NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN
July 29, 2011 1:04 PM
Robert William Pickton is shown in this file photo arriving at the Supreme Court of B.C. in New Westminster prior to the selection of the jury.
Photograph by: Stuart Davis, PNG
VANCOUVER -- The Native Women's Association of Canada is calling for a national inquiry into the growing number of missing and murdered aboriginal women after feeling shutout from B.C.'s Missing Women inquiry.
"The government of B.C. has shut us out of the British Columbia Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, and now we have no confidence that it will be able to produce a fair and balanced report," NWAC President Jeannette Corbiere Lavell said in a statement issued today.
"The decision of the BC government to restrict funding for counsel primarily to police and government agencies demonstrates how flawed and one sided this process has become."
Her comments came after B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner has repeatedly rejected calls for funding for 13 groups who have been granted standing at the Missing Women inquiry, including the NWAC.
The attorney general has only granted funding for a lawyer to represent the families of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.
The inquiry's mandate is to probe why it took police so long to catch Pickton, especially after the serial killer was charged years earlier with the attempted murder of a woman who was stabbed but managed to flee Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, where he was known to slaughter pigs.
The Missing Women inquiry also expanded its mandate to probe the problems of investigations involving multiple homicides such as those along the Highway of Tears in northern B.C.
A large proportion of the missing and murdered women in the Highway of Tears and Pickton investigations were aboriginal.
Inquiry commission Wally Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general, had asked the government to include funding for two native groups and 10 others, saying it was crucial because the police agencies involved in the probe will be represented by their lawyers at the inquiry.
"The Commissioner made it very clear that he considered our participation throughout the hearing process to be vital to a fair and full examination of the issues. I am deeply disappointed that we are unable to bring forward the voices and concerns of Aboriginal women and girls to this inquiry as we had planned," the NWAC president said.
NWAC now plans to seek the support of all Canadian governments, and all Canadians, for a national inquiry that can effectively examine violence against aboriginal women and girls, and to allow the full participation of aboriginal women.
The announcement comes a day after a number of first nations groups and organizations disappointed with the provincial government's decision not to fund their legal expenses have withdrawn from participating in B.C.'s Missing Women Inquiry.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and the Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association have told Oppal they will not be participating in the inquiry that is examining the police investigations conducted between Jan. 23, 1997, and Feb. 5, 2002, into women reported missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, many who became victims of Pickton.
NDP critics Jenny Kwan and Leonard Krog said Penner's decision could jeopardize the commission's capacity to fulfill its mandate.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said earlier this week that the government appeared from the beginning to have put a low ceiling on the funding available for the inquiry.
"In truth the decision and sheer hypocrisy of the Christy Clark government have effectively slammed the door on this inquiry," he charged.
Darlene Shackelly, executive director of the Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association, said the organization couldn't afford to pay a lawyer to do necessary research in order for the association to present a brief to the commission.
"We don't want to interrogate the police, but we have issues concerning the way attempts were made to keep track of people," she said.
Lori-Ann Ellis, the sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, one of Pickton's victims, said today she is mad and frustrated about the lack of funding for many of the people who were "in the trenches" with the women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where Pickton preyed on women and took them back to his farm.
"If we keep closing the door on these groups, it's not a public inquiry, it's a sham," she said. "We want the full story to come out."
Ellis pointed out that Cara Ellis' blood was found on Pickton's clothes when he was originally arrested in 1997 and charged with attempted murder.
She added if police would have done their job properly in the first place, there would be no need for a public inquiry and people would not be complaining about how much money the inquiry will cost.
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