When the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was established we were hopeful that years of advocacy by families, women’s organizations and Aboriginal groups were paying off.
We had some questions and some reservations: were the terms of reference broad enough? Was Wally Oppal the right person to lead this Commission? We decided to put those reservations aside because we believed that there were stories that needed to be told, questions that needed to be asked and there was a real opportunity for a strong set of recommendations to be presented to government.
Since the Inquiry was called in 2010, a number of government decisions have effectively shut out many of the groups who lobbied most strongly for this inquiry. As a result, we have come to doubt the ability of the commission to conduct a fair and impartial inquiry. The Province’s decision to deny the funding necessary for organizations working with marginalized women to participate in the inquiry in a meaningful way means that, once again, women’s voices will be silenced. On the other hand, police forces that were involved in the investigations and the criminal justice branch will be represented by a team of government-funded lawyers.
We are also concerned about the lack of transparency in the structure of the inquiry. When the inquiry was announced, individuals and organizations began applying to participate in the inquiry with the understanding they would have the opportunity to secure council to represent them. After the decision to deny funding to groups, the government introduced two independent lawyers (amici) to present the perspectives of the Downtown Eastside community and Aboriginal women. This differs substantially from being represented by council that takes instruction from their client and focuses on the unique interests and perspectives of the group they represent.
The Inquiry will explore critical issues related to the investigations between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002 respecting women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside. We are disappointed that so much of the burden of getting information out will rest with the families of the victims and their lawyers. We believe there is important information that will come out through the inquiry and we support the families’ commitment to the inquiry and deeply value the work they have done and are yet to do.
In the end our decision to withdraw was about more than our concerns about the integrity of the inquiry, it was also about fulfilling our commitment to using our resources to achieve the most positive impact for marginalized women. We are preparing to turn our attention to the current situation of vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside. We will be collecting sworn statements in order to explore the question: How much has changed and what is left to be done to avoid more tragedies in the future? We are looking forward to meeting with other agencies and women to explore the best way to collect stories and to ensure that women are well supported if they choose to come forward and share their knowledge and expertise.