Just when you think that all the things that could go wrong with the Missing Women’s Inquiry has occurred, something even more atrocious happens.
When Robin Gervais who was independent counsel for aboriginal interests resigned and Wally Oppal announced he was going to find a replacement, I thought, which lawyer in their right mind would step forward and do that?
There is already no credibility of this inquiry with most aboriginal peoples. Every aboriginal group and people have bailed because they can see this has turned into a police oriented hearing where they get lawyers and all the time they want in the hearing and the aboriginal women whom this whole hearing is about gets minimized to a miniscule opportunity to provide evidence and testify. No one can fault Robin Gervais, many applaud her for being brave enough to withdraw and make public her views and concerns. Why would she want her name associated with such a one sided inquiry that is designed to not help aboriginal issues?
Now, two women have been appointed by Wally Oppal to carry on in Robin’s place. They have no clients, no aboriginal group will work with them and they have missed the lion’s share of the inquiry. Now it is only public presentations with no chance of cross-examination or to put forward any evidentiary material that would help aboriginal women. This is not like baseball or hockey, where you can bring in your goalie or pitcher in the last inning or period and they can take over without having participated in the whole game. Months of hearings, and materials have been produced during the course of the hearing and legal arguments on various issues. To ask these two women to review that material in a way that they can be on the same level of understanding as the other lawyers in the inquiry within 10 days, is asking them to do months of work in a few days. There are insurmountable piles of papers to go through. Papers don’t tell the story, they don’t show how the witnesses acted on the stand, the emotion, the body language, so much of what happened will be lost to these newly appointed lawyers.
CNEWS reports on March 22, 2012 that “Commissioner Oppal believes that this role is crucial to ensure that Aboriginal interests are presented at the inquiry,” said commission counsel Art Vertlieb. If Oppal thinks he can parachute two women who have experience in dealing with aboriginal issues but not this inquiry and on this particular issue at the last minute shows how little Oppal has an understanding of the immensity of the aboriginal issues that need to be dealt with especially when they won’t have any aboriginal clients to advise them. As long as there is a lawyer or two there to represent aboriginal interests at the inquiry (inquiry appointed to represent aboriginal people-not appointed by aboriginal people themselves) Oppal thinks he can in good conscience move ahead. He is so wrong and so desperate!
It is beyond disappointment to me that these two women took on this task. Why? To try and add credibility to an inquiry that has absolutely none at this point and hasn’t had for a long time. To try and salvage a rapidly sinking ship? What do they think they can accomplish in light of the circumstances and the feeling of aboriginal organizations. If these women feel they can make positive changes at the eleventh hour, more power to them but I can’t see it happening. I hope they prove me wrong.
For all of us, the issues surrounding murdered and missing women, not just in BC but all over Canada is one that is near and dear to our hearts. Things need to change in the entire justice system. The inquiry is one tool to deal with how things have been done wrong in the past and recommend how things can be changed for the better in the future. Too often, I see people looking for their loved ones who have gone missing and my heart goes out to them and pray with all my heart that they will be found unharmed. This is happening too often is what I know and see.
This inquiry was very important to the families of the missing women, aboriginal peoples, women, and many other people. It is an incredible shame that from the beginning it has been plagued with negativity and seemingly impossible issues. From the appointment of Wally Oppal, not paying for aboriginal organizations lawyers, the limited terms of reference, and so on and so forth, and now the appointment of two women to represent aboriginal interests without talking to aboriginal people. The old attitude, “we know what is best for you” is so alive and well. This is 2012 isn’t it? So short-sighted of Oppal.
There have been so many inequities in this inquiry towards aboriginal people. The cutting short of the inquiry to not allow more aboriginal witnesses, providing an unequal input from the police witnesses that are represented by lawyers, aboriginal people are always at a disadvantage. This inquiry was supposed to be about murdered and missing aboriginal woman and they have not been at the centre of these issues.
I really feel for the families and friends of these murdered and missing women. Their anger, frustration, and sorrow must increase every time another faux pas happens. When will it all be over? When will their questions be answered? When will justice happen? So many unanswered questions that this inquiry will not answer.
We need everyone to admit there is a problem, there have been problems and issues in the justice system from the police to the courts and the laws and we need to overhaul that system. What is the best way to fix these seemingly humongous concerns? Instead it has been largely one of defending actions.
We need to find other ways to resolve this especially as no matter what the inquiry ends up recommending will be given little weight or credence. A complaint has been lodged with the Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination at the United Nations level. It is another tool and a long process and one that will have political pressure as its solution.
Surely there can be a body established that can review processes, laws and actions and have the authority to implement changes as are needed. A body that would have families of the missing women, aboriginal people/organizations who play a key role in assisting these women and families, upper level officials. We as a society can no longer just sit back and wait for inquiries, or complaint processes, we should convene town hall meetings, or create other ways to collectively think of solutions and get governments on side with finding solutions to prevent further missing and murdered women. The safety and security of our families, friends and communities are at stake. What are we willing to do personally to make sure another woman does not go missing without immediate and appropriate action is taken? If we leave it up to the governments, we end up with a fiasco like the Oppal Missing Women Inquiry. This is just not acceptable!