|Open Letter: Funding for Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Participants|
July 15, 2011
July 15, 2011
Honourable Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
PO Box 9041, Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC, V8W 9E1
Honourable Barry Penner
Attorney General, British Columbia
PO Box 9044, Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC, V8W 9E2
Honourable Mary Polak
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
PO Box 9051, Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC, V8W 9E2
OPEN LETTER: Funding for MWCI Participants
Dear Premier Clark, Minister Polak, and Minister Penner,
We strongly urge you to provide funding for the 13 full participants at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (the “Commission” or the “Inquiry”), as recommended by Commissioner Oppal. The 13 participants who have been granted full standing have extremely unique knowledge to contribute to the Inquiry regarding the complex lives of the murdered and missing women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Without funding, these 13 participants will not be able to take part in the Inquiry, meaning the utility, accuracy and integrity of the Inquiry will be called into question.
As you know, a disturbingly high proportion of the murdered and missing women, and women who continue to experience extreme violence, are Aboriginal. It is completely unacceptable that there is currently no Aboriginal voice in this Inquiry. We remind you that Canada has committed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that article 22(2) sets out that “States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.”
For decades, family members of missing women, grassroots women’s organizations in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES), community groups and Aboriginal and public leaders including the UBCIC Chiefs Council via Resolution 2008-30, have incessantly called for a full public inquiry into the missing women of the DTES and the Highway of Tears. By Resolution 2011-29 (enclosed), the UBCIC Chiefs Council unanimously demands that all 13 applicants that were given full standing be provincially funded, as recommended by Commissioner Oppal.
We fully support Commissioner Oppal’s request that you reconsider your position on his funding recommendations, and encourage you to take into account the opportunities he notes in response to your concerns around increased costs in funding the participants. In a recent letter to you dated June 30, 2011, Commissioner Oppal reiterated his concerns with the government’s recent decision regarding funding for participants at the Commission. In particular, he drew on the information provided at the pre-hearing conference on June 27, 2011; information received by Commission Counsel at two meetings with participants and their counsel; and review of the written material of a number of parties. He also pointed out that a number or participant applicants, aware of the need to manage costs in the Inquiry, have agreed to work together and formed various coalitions.
The Province’s resistance to provide funding for participants with critical evidence for the Inquiry is incredibly disturbing, particularly in light of recent spending choices that the Province has made which indicate the tragically low priority given to the lives of the murdered and missing women. For example, we understand that the Province forgave the $6-million in legal fees owed by Basi and Virk just before the two men provided surprise guilty pleas to two counts each of breach of trust and accepting benefits, related to the leak of confidential information about the 2003 BC Rail bidding process. In another example, the Province is spending approximately $600-million for the retractable roof installation and accompanying upgrades at BC Place. These spending choices imply that the Province places more value and priority on protecting the government from scandal, on entertainment, and on economic return than on the lives of the dozens of missing and murdered women who are the subject of the Inquiry.
We call on the Province to fulfill the public statements you have made committing to investigate the issue of ending violence against Aboriginal women in the most comprehensive way possible. At the recent Collaboration to End Violence: National Aboriginal Women’s Forum, Minister Polak acknowledged that “violence against First Nations, Métis and Inuit women and girls is a subject of concern for all Canadians.” We note that the forum’s mandate was to highlight leading examples, processes and collaborations that can help eliminate violence against Aboriginal women. It would be hypocritical for the Province to pay lip-service to this mandate by not funding participants with unique knowledge of the disenfranchised women and victims that were the very subject of the forum. Prior to a meeting of the western premiers the following week, Premier Clark was quoted in the Vancouver Sun stating that “way too many Aboriginal women go missing in this country and we clearly haven’t done enough about it...We need to identify the common things that are broken in our system- in our law-enforcement system and our missing persons systems across the west- and see if we can address them.” Given these candid and committed statements, we implore you to give substance to the vital work that the Commission was set up to do. As a relatively small organization with extremely limited funds, like many other participants, we do not have the capacity to have a meaningful role in the Inquiry process without counsel. And, as the Commissioner has noted, it would be “virtually impossible” and “untenable” for one person to act as counsel for all sex-trade workers, residents of the DTES, Aboriginal people, women, community members, and other parties.
The government has still not asked for estimates from participants or their legal counsel regarding what amounts are necessary for participants to fulfil their role at the Inquiry; however, we have read media reports where the Attorney General has stated that “funding all of the groups would cost $4.6-million to $6.5-million” and funding the families will cost “hundreds of thousands.” We are completely unclear where this information came from, and are deeply disappointed and indignant that the government has chosen to circulate these misleading numbers. In his letter dated June 30, 2011, Commissioner Oppal wrote that concerns that counsel for these participants are “seeking large pay checks...could not be farther from the truth.” We ask that you accept estimates from each participant, and then readjust the budget for the Inquiry accordingly.
Ensuring that the Commission proceeds with the maximum amount of evidence and input available is literally a matter of life and death for the marginalized women who continue to experience extremely dangerous situations on a daily basis in the Downtown Eastside and throughout the province. As the political leadership in this Province, you must do absolutely everything in your powers to fully understand the conduct of the murdered and missing women investigations, and facilitate analysis of all relevant information in order to prevent further violence against women.
Once again, we urge you to reverse your earlier decision and fund the 13 participants including the Aboriginal groups, to participate in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Chief Robert Chamberlin
Chief Marilyn Baptiste
Wally Oppal, Q.C., Commissioner
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Assembly of First Nations
Grand Chief Ed John, Chief Doug White, and Dan Smith, First Nations Summit
Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, BC Assembly of First Nations
Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada
David Luggi, Tribal Chief, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council
Hugh Braker, President, Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Committee of the February 14 Women’s Memorial March
Frank Paul Society
BC Civil Liberties Association
PIVOT Legal Society
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs
June 1st- June 2nd, 2011
Resolution no. 2011-29
RE: Follow up to Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry May 3, 2011 Ruling
WHEREAS for decades, many grassroots women’s organizations in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver as well as the UBCIC Chiefs Council, via Resolution 2008-30, called for a full public inquiry into the Missing Women of the DTES and the Highway of Tears;
WHEREAS by Resolution 2010-13, the UBCIC Chiefs Council acknowledged that Indigenous Nations women have the right to personal safety and security, no matter what their socio-economic status may be, yet Indigenous Nations women experience disproportionately high levels of violence;
WHEREAS Article 22 (2) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples cites that “States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination”;
WHEREAS the BC Government implemented the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry (MWCI) in the fall of 2010 and appointed former Attorney General Wally Oppal as Commissioner of the MWCI, and the BC Government approved Commissioner Oppal’s recommendation to expand the MWCI terms of reference to include both a policy and hearing commission of inquiry;
WHEREAS the terms of reference of the inquiry to be conducted by the commission are as follows:
(a) To conduct hearings, in or near the City of Vancouver, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the conduct of the missing women investigations;
(b) Consistent with the British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Davies, 2009 BCCA 337, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault;
(c) To recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides;
(d) To recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in British Columbia by more than one investigating organization, including the co-ordination of those investigations;
(e) To submit a final report to the Attorney General or before December 31, 2011;
WHEREAS on May 3, 2011 Commissioner Wally Oppal made a ruling that 13 organizations were given standing, and specifically the Assembly of First Nations, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC were given limited standing into the policy aspects of the MWCI, and Commissioner Oppal recommended funding for all 13 organizations including those noted here. Those organizations which received limited standing must apply to Commissioner Oppal on an individual witness basis to cross examine witnesses;
WHEREAS the BC Government approved funding for the families of the missing and murdered women; however, it was decided to disregard recommendations by Commissioner Oppal to fund the 13 organizations who received standing. Lawyers for the BC Government, the Vancouver Police, the RCMP and the MWCI are all government funded which creates an obvious inequity in the overall process;
WHEREAS without adequate resources the 13 organizations that received full or limited standing will not be able participate in the evidentiary/factual and study/policy aspects of the MWCI. Specifically, UBCIC, with limited standing will not have the resources to take part in all phases of the Commission’s evidentiary and study hearings such as the ability to cross examine witnesses, make submissions, access and analyze disclosure documents and/or able to participate in policy hearings.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the UBCIC Chiefs Council unanimously demands that all 13 organizations that were given standing be provincially funded, as recommended by Commissioner Wally Oppal;
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the UBCIC Chiefs Council directs the UBCIC Executive to directly and publicly advocate for the 13 organizations who were given standing to be fully funded, publicizing our serious concerns to date with the actions of the Province and decisions of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry (MWCI);
THEREFORE BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the UBCIC Chiefs Council directs the UBCIC Executive and its legal counsel to immediately consider a range of options including discussions with the Premier, Attorney General and MWCI Commissioner; litigation; and direct action.
Moved: Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith Indian Band
Seconded: Acting Chief April Charles, Hesquiaht First Nation
Date: June 2, 2011