URGENT: Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26, 2011

Hon. Barry Penner, Q.C.
Attorney General of British Columbia
Room 232
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

URGENT: Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Dear Attorney General,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Women's Equality and Security Coalition (WESC), which is an ad hoc group of women’s organizations dedicated to the protection and advancement of women’s liberty, dignity, security and equality. The WESC formed specifically to participate in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and was granted standing by Commissioner Oppal.

The WESC is composed of: The National Congress of Black Women Foundation; Aboriginal Women’s Action Network; Coalition of Childcare Advocates; Justice for Girls; Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers; EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating); Vancouver Rape Relief Society; University Women’s Club of Vancouver; The Poverty & Human Rights Centre; The Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution; and the Provincial Council of Women.

We are shocked by your decision not to fund WESC's participation in the inquiry, and not to fund any of the groups and individuals who have been granted standing by Commissioner Wally Oppal, with the exception of the families who are represented by Cameron Ward.

Commissioner Oppal considered written and oral submissions before making his decisions on standing, and he determined that fulfillment of the Commission’s mandate required the participation of the parties to whom he granted standing because of their diverse and pertinent expertise. Your decision not to fund participation for these groups renders the Commission of Inquiry incapable of carrying out its mandate.

The Commission has a legal obligation to conduct a fair and thorough inquiry, but it cannot do that if public funding is provided principally to the police and the Criminal Justice Branch of your ministry. The police, Crown and Mr. Ward alone cannot provide full and impartial information to the Commission. Providing funding to those who are under scrutiny, but not to those organizations and individuals that have direct knowledge of conditions affecting the missing and murdered women and police practices at the time, will bias the outcome and rob the Commission’s findings of any legitimacy.

The decision in effect means that no women’s organizations, no Aboriginal women's organizations, and no Aboriginal peoples' organizations can participate in this Commission. Since all the victims were women, and a significant number of them were Aboriginal, the de facto exclusion of these organizations constitutes further discrimination. Because this inquiry is about sex and race discrimination in policing, the exclusion of these groups is especially shocking.

You have asserted in the media that the groups will be able to participate without funding. This is simply not true. Perhaps some might be able to participate, as volunteers, unrepresented by legal counsel, in an erratic and partial way. This will be more problematic for the Commission than helpful.  Most groups will not be able to participate at all. The advantage will lie with the police organizations and the process will be seen to be biased, incomplete and entirely lacking in credibility.

The Women’s Equality and Security Coalition urgently requests you to reverse this decision and to grant adequate and fair funding to all those who have been granted standing by Commissioner Oppal. This is necessary in order for the Government and the people of British Columbia to finally have a full opportunity to understand all that led to the tragic deaths of the women, and what is required to prevent more.

This is a crucial issue of women's equality in British Columbia. The WESC and other organizations should be able to participate fully in the inquiry, with your support.

We would like to meet with you immediately to discuss this matter, as we cannot move forward with our plans to participate in the inquiry until it is resolved. For us, it would be most convenient to meet with you in your Vancouver office.


Shelagh Day