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Justice for marginalized women lost in a maze of empty rhetoric

Last week I, along with most people who have been watching the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry unfold, was astounded to learn that women’s groups, Aboriginal groups and organizations working directly with sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were denied funding to participate in the Inquiry. The Attorney General’s decision to deny them the funding needed to retain council and participate in the process marked the first time an attorney general has ever dismissed a Commissioner’s funding recommendations  

Community groups, now effectively shut out of the process by the Attorney General, found themselves searching for answers and demanding accountability from a government that has long ignored their concerns and the needs of the women they work with.  On Christy Clark’s first day in the legislature as Premier of BC, NDP leader Adrian Dix asked her clearly in the legislature: “Will the Premier intervene to overturn this decision and make sure those voices are heard at the inquiry?”

Clark’s response, deeply disturbing, is full of avoidance tactics, political opportunism and disregard for the missing and murdered women:

  “What has happened in the Downtown Eastside is tragic, and it continues to be tragic — what happens down there for women and children and men who struggle every day in what is certainly one of Canada's poorest postal codes. It has been a challenge for governments for decades to try and get our hands around the issues down there, try and wrestle them down and make sure that it's a better place tomorrow than it has been in the past.”

Clark suggests that the calling of the inquiry itself shows that her government is committed to addressing the problem:

…this government called the inquiry in the first place and appointed Mr. Oppal to head it up because we want to make sure that people's voices are heard, and we want to make sure that we get to the bottom of some of the problems down on the Downtown Eastside and make sure that when we get to the bottom of those problems, we have a way to move forward.

The Premier then chose to shift the discussion in another direction more inline with her current talking points:

There are very specific issues in the Downtown Eastside that we absolutely have to be thinking about…  But we have to support families all across the province. We have to lighten the burden. That's why the minister responsible for B.C. Hydro is reviewing B.C. Hydro. That's why when ICBC decided that they were going to start giving people higher rates after they had one ticket the Solicitor General stepped in. That's why the Minister of Transportation is having a look at B.C. Ferries, and that's why we are lowering the HST by 2 points. We're going to make sure that every family in this province ends up ahead when it comes to taxes…   I'd sure rather be supporting a 10 percent tax than a 12 percent tax.

Decades after people began to report women going missing, Christy Clark and the BC Liberals are still playing politics with women’s lives by denying those with the most to add to this inquiry the funding they need to participate. They are still belittling the experiences of those who have lost loved one and ignoring those who have worked tirelessly for years to advance the interests of women in the DTES.

As it currently stands, the VPD, RCMP, and BC Government will have teams of taxpayer funded lawyers to put forward their account of events. A single lawyer representing the families of the murdered women will be alone in investigating, cross examining, and holding to account those who failed to protect women living in extreme poverty in the Downtown Eastside.