Human rights and legal groups critique inquiry process

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Three human rights and advocacy organizations have released a report critiquing the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI). West Coast LEAF (Legal Education and Action Fund), B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and Pivot Legal Society have openly disagreed with the process in which the inquiry took place.

The inquiry was a result of the disappearances and murders of marginalized women in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Robert Pickton was charged with second-degree murder of six missing women, although he had boasted about murdering 49 women. Pickton was sentenced to six life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years.

According to the groups, their report criticizes the process of the inquiry rather than the final result.

The report focuses on six main areas of critique: independence of the inquiry, the quality of evidence, how the rules of evidence were applied (which they claim were too formalistic), support for the witnesses, development of the terms of reference, and consultation leading up to the development of the inquiry.

Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF, told the Manitoban that one main theme emerged throughout the criticisms.

“[The inquiry] should be including the voices of those most directly impacted by the subject matter of the inquiry and putting those voices front and centre, both for the fact-finding process, but also for the purpose of reconciliation.”

The inquiry commissioner, Wally Oppal, submitted his 1,448 page final report to the government on Nov. 22. The groups, however, released their criticisms days before that.
“The report focuses on the procedure, on the process of the inquiry, not the outcome. And we say that the process itself was an opportunity for reconciliation. [ . . . ] Whatever recommendations come out, they can’t achieve the most important goal, the goal of reconciliation. The goal of making people feel listened to and that their stories were heard and that their perspectives were valued,” said Govender.

According to Govender, the faults in the inquiry began from the start of the process. Many groups who called for the inquiry were not consulted.

These groups were denied funding from the government to partake in the inquiry. Govender argued that certain important witnesses weren’t called and the witnesses that were included did not have the proper support.

Oppal urged the groups to remain receptive of his report.

“My report puts forward strong recommendations for change and it is imperative that everyone comes together to ensure that we can better protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

Govender stated that they will remain open and optimistic to Oppal’s conclusions; however, that will not change the shortcomings of the inquiry process.

“I think that the issue is at the core of how the justice system operates, how women’s safety is valued, and I think that those are essential issues to how society operates,” argued Govender.

The importance of the inquiry, according to Govender, is best illustrated through a quote by Oppal on the front of the legal groups’ critical report.

“The greatness of a society can be measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

Reports of police officer’s apprehension into investigating the missing women due to victims’ involvement in the sex trade and drug activity were a reason behind the inquiry which, Oppal explained, aimed to determine whether the vulnerable women were treated differently than other citizens.