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Missing women's inquiry adds four lawyers to represent advocacy groups

The Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry announced today the names of four attorneys that will represent two broad interest groups in the upcoming October hearings -- the greater Downtown Eastside and Aboriginal women's groups. Both groups were denied funding for legal representation earlier this year.

Jason Gratl, a past-president of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and Robyn Gervais, who previously represented the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council at the commission, have been hired on contract by the missing women commission's office, although they will work independently of it.

Bryan Baynham Q.C. and Darrell Roberts Q.C., will participate pro bono in the inquiry in support of Gervais, according to Chris Freimond, spokesman for the missing women's commission.  

Freimond said the pro bono attorneys will assist Gervais because she is less experienced than Gratl and has a broader mandate to tackle, adding that the Aboriginal female community she will represent is "extremely large and complex."

Carrier Sekani Family Services withdrew from the hearing process in a news release on July 27. In the release, executive director Warner Adam said, "We have been left with no choice but to withdraw support from the Commission in its current form, as it appears to be self-serving and has lost sight of the objectives."

Mary Teegee, director of child and family services for Carrier Sekani Family Services, said the commission's announcement does not alter their willingness to stay out of the hearing process.

"We're going to have a commission report that will be created without the endorsement of the leadership -- without listening to the grassroots people. It's not listening to the First Nations women and families of the victims. They can put as many lawyers as they want... but they have to start listening."

The move to hire the attorneys follows the B.C. Attorney General's office decision not to fund individual legal representation for the 13 groups who had requested financial assistance. By moving around some funds, Freimond said, they were able to find money to fund the two paid lawyers.

On Monday, The Tyee reported that the decision to fund attorneys for broad interest groups was rejected by many who had already pulled out, some calling it a "poor attempt at a compromise." The groups affected say they can't participate in the hearing without proper legal representation. 

Freimond said that the idea to hire independent attorneys was suggested at a pre-conference hearing in June. He added that although the groups who had asked for money for legal representation will not receive it, the newly-appointed lawyers representing their interests as a whole will be an indirect way for them to have a voice at the hearings.

"It is a compromise," he said, "because ideally it would have been good for those groups to have each of their own legal representatives, but that's not going to be possible... the government's not prepared to finance them, and the commission itself doesn't have enough of a budget to hire a lawyer to represent each."

Carrie Swiggum is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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