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Clark rejects request to 'fix' Missing Women Inquiry

A group of NGOs and the families of missing and murdered women are asking Premier Christy Clark to "fix" the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, before inquiry hearings begin on October 11.

The families of 17 missing and murdered women, along with many of the non-government parties granted standing in the Missing Women Inquiry, have signed a letter released today requesting Clark's aid.

The signees feel the commission will not fairly represent groups speaking on behalf of those most affected by the Robert Pickton murders, as well as violence against women and sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The inquiry's hearings have been organized to oversee evidence and testimonials reviewing why it took Vancouver police so long to apprehend Pickton, as well as recommend changes to investigations with respect to missing women and homicides in B.C.

Many groups initially granted standing in the hearing have dropped out, citing a lack of funding from the province for legal representatives to speak on their behalf. Although legal representation has been granted to Vancouver police officers and family members of victims, four lawyers (two working as legal assistants pro-bono) have been assigned to represent aboriginal groups and DTES community groups -- which, the groups say, isn't enough to represent their broad interests.

The letter comes a week after Pivot Legal Society dropped out, citing questions about the impartiality of the commission.

The letter urged that the success of the inquiry hinges on legal representation of community groups. "Despite our unflinching desire for this Commission of Inquiry to succeed, and for our communities and organizations to be able to participate in it, the people and communities who are intended to be benefited by this process have been made to feel that their participation is not needed, or even particularly desired," the letter said. "This outcome will negatively impact the findings and credibility of this Commission."

The letter requested Clark to appoint a senior member of the government to hold an "emergency meeting" with every group granted standing in the inquiry to reach a conclusion as to how to fix the Commission of Inquiry. "If this Commission is allowed to fail, which would certainly be the case if it is ultimately seen as illegitimate by affected communities, the result will be to not only aggravate old wounds, but open new ones. For these reasons too, we want this Commission to succeed, and we want to participate fully and meaningfully in it."

In response to the letter, interim Attorney General Shirley Bond released a statement today saying, "The B.C. Government has not received a request from the commissioner to extend the commission deadline and as such, we expect the Commission to complete its work by Dec. 31, 2011. If the Commissioner requests an extension this will need to be carefully considered by government."

Bond cited budget challenges as a reason for not providing more legal representatives to groups wanting to be involved. "Let me be clear, we will not be intervening in the work of the Commission. Given the budget challenges the ministry is facing, we have made our priority funding legal counsel for the families of the murdered and missing women. And on the request of the Commissioner, we amended the commission's terms of reference to make it a joint hearing and study commission expressly so that it was more inclusive and less formal so participants would not need legal counsel."

Grace Scott is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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