Community groups shut out of Missing Women's Inquiry
Vancouver, May 25, 2011 – Public interest groups and organizations working with women in the Downtown Eastside were shocked by an unexpected decision by the Attorney General of British Columbia to deny them funding to participate in the Missing Women’s Inquiry.
Last Thursday, AG Barry Penner announced that his ministry will only fund counsel for the families of Pickton’s victims. This decision is at odds with Commissioner Wally Oppal’s recommendation that all groups who were granted “participant status” should receive funding because their participation would further the objectives of the inquiry and they would not be able to participate without financial support. The decision to deny funding to participants is unprecedented in British Columbia – in all past Commission of Inquiry, the AG has consistently followed funding recommendation from the Commissioner.
The government bodies being scrutinized in this inquiry – the Vancouver Police Department, the RCMP and the Criminal Justice Branch – will all be represented by teams of taxpayer-funded lawyers. However, community groups who are seeking to hold them to account will be expected to pay for their own counsel in an inquiry that could go on for many months. The cost of participation is prohibitive so community groups are calling on AG Barry Penner to reverse his decision.
Pivot Legal Society, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and Amnesty International Canada had formed a coalition which was granted the right to participate in the inquiry.
“Without public interest groups there to represent the very people this Inquiry is designed to protect, it is starting to feel like another case of the police investigating themselves and calls into question the legitimacy of the this Inquiry” said Douglas King, policing campaigner for Pivot Legal Society. The AG’s also denied funding to a number of DTES women’s groups including the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, the February 14th Memorial March Committee as well as sex worker-serving organizations, such as WISH and PACE Society who all had direct experience with the failure of police to properly investigate the missing women from the DTES.
“This inquiry is about the police and crown counsel’s failure to fully and effectively investigate the horrendous violence experienced by women in the DTES,” said Darcie Bennett, Pivot’s campaigns director, “the fact that the government does not want to fund community groups to participate in this inquiry is appalling and is another indication that the B.C. government is not really committed to ensuring the safety of the most marginalized women.”