Inquiry slams door in face of First Nations groups

Groups pull out of missing women’s inquiry in protest

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and other groups have removed themselves from the province's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry after getting the shaft on involvement.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and other groups have removed themselves from the province's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry after getting the shaft on involvement.

Groups pull out of missing women’s inquiry in protest

Aboriginal groups, including Victoria’s Coast Salish, may feel like they’ve won the battle and lost the war this week, after the B.C. government offered sub-par involvement in the B.C. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. But the groups aren’t up for another round of oppression — they’ve decided to walk.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and other groups previously on board are now withdrawing from participating in an effort to point a finger back at the province’s “inadequate excuse” for the first and only independent inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in B.C., especially Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Despite two decades of fighting for the government’s attention on the matters, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of UBCIC, says that First Nations groups around the province are being shut out of the inquiry by the province’s actions: groups were not notified that an announcement of the inquiry would be made, they were not involved with the choice of commissioner, they were not consulted for any terms of reference and will not be provided any additional funding for expenses that could incur from involvement.

Compared to the recent inquiry into the Frank Paul case — a First Nations man who died in 1998 after being left by police in a lane-way while drunk — which saw First Nations groups fully involved in the case, Phillip believes the province is trying to take the easy way out on a complicated situation.

“We’ve heard the officials and Premier Christy Clark speak to how this violence against women has been horrific in our province, and how governments need to do their utmost to ensure that this is dealt with and nothing like this happens again,” he says. “Yet at the first opportunity for our government to act, they deny funding to the very groups they claim to be helping.”

Funding for counsel outside the justice system has been restricted to one lawyer representing a fraction of the families affected by the tragedies of Vancouver’s DTES. The 13 groups granted standing at the inquiry have been denied funding to participate.

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, president of the NWAC, says she is “deeply disappointed” that the association will be unable to bring forward the voices and concerns of Aboriginal women and girls to this inquiry as planned. The NWAC was the only Aboriginal organization granted full standing.

“Now we have no confidence that [the inquiry] will be able to produce a fair and balanced report,” Corbiere Lavell says. “The decision of the B.C. government to restrict funding for counsel primarily to police and government agencies demonstrates how flawed and one-sided this process has become.”

Phillip says the results are heartbreaking after nearly 20 years of political struggle, marches, rallies, candlelight vigils and demonstrations had seemed to, at first, finally have some traction. The groups are also displeased with the decision to appoint former attorney general Wally Oppal as commissioner. Oppal is seen as a “political insider” and has formerly described inquiries as onerous, says Phillip. However, the province decided not to implement Oppal’s recommendations for funding to the NWAC and other groups, whose participation he deemed necessary to make the inquiry fair and effective.

“Without the proper funding and involvement, these groups — like the Downtown Eastside women’s groups — cannot fully participate and have a role in this inquiry,” says Phillip. “This act muzzles us and further slams a door in our face — it’s becoming a cover up, a whitewash.”

Without the participation of First Nations groups, Phillip says the province will “absolutely not” be able to successfully complete the inquiry. With more groups pulling out, Phillip says they will have to “decide where to go from here.” But one thing is certain: the group will not be abandoning the issue. The NWAC is now calling for a national inquiry to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada.

“The integrity of this inquiry is failing fast,” Phillip says. “We’re not going to see people challenging themselves and asking those hard questions . . . It’s astonishing how wrong this is.” M

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Blue Bridge Theatre
Stratford star teams up with Blue Bridge Theatre

A New Take on a Perennial Favourite

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Stephen Laidlaw, prepator with Nanaimo Art Gallery, hangs a photograph of Anna Wong, a B.C. print maker whose works are on display at the gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

‘Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads’ features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

Most Read