Oppal’s bungling threatens benefits

With the help of grandstanding by Commissioner Wally Oppal, special interest groups now have an excuse to turn the Missing Women Inquiry into a platform for political activism.

With the help of grandstanding by Commissioner Wally Oppal, special interest groups now have an excuse to turn the Missing Women Inquiry into a platform for political activism.

A few days ago, the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C. announced that it will boycott the inquiry because it does not have the resources to participate. The resources they speak of are publicly-funded lawyers to articulate an agenda the association should have no problem communicating on its own.

That prompted a spokesperson for the Feb. 14 Women’s Memorial March Committee to accuse the government of trying to silence its voice. “This provincial government has in so many ways let us know that women’s voices are not welcome,” marcher Angela Marie MacDougall said.

This anger and resentment springs from the government’s rejection of a Wally Oppal eight-page treatise urging government to pay for lawyers for aboriginal and women’s groups.

Oppal fanned the flames of dissent by suggesting the government’s “failure to fund the participant organizations would leave disenfranchised women and victims in a clearly unfair position at the hearing.”

This needless pandering to special interests forced Deputy Attorney-General David Loukidelis to publicly scold the former judge and inform Oppal that he was overstepping his bounds by even recommending funding be provided.

Loukidelis said the inquiry can be conducted in such a way that participants won’t need lawyers. Further, Oppal can use commission lawyers to play an active role in examining documents and prompting evidence … a suggestion Oppal rejected as “untenable.”

The deputy AG also reminded the former AG of funding realities he should remember from his time in the hot seat. Simply put: public funding for teams of lawyers for this inquiry — other than the families of missing and murdered women — is not a higher priority than meeting ministry requirements such as paying for court staff, sheriffs, Crown prosecutors and judges.

It is worth recalling that at the time serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted, Oppal was serving as BC’s AG and rejected calls for an inquiry saying that an investigation into how police handled the Eastside murders was not needed.

How times have changed.

Premier Christy Clark attempted to refocus the issue when she and other Canadian premiers met with national aboriginal leaders at the Council of the Federation meeting in Vancouver.

Asked about her government’s refusal to cave in to Oppal’s demands, Clark said funding should be spent on preventing future abuse.

“Wally Oppal’s commission is providing very valuable information about the past and how we can make sure that the Vancouver police department and other areas of law enforcement in the Lower Mainland have closed the gaps that allowed that tragedy to unfold,” Clark said.

“If we can find millions of dollars to spend — and we should — it needs to be about going forward, and making sure women today are protected.”

The premier is right. If Oppal’s inquiry is to have any lasting benefit it will be its ability to identify protocols that can be implemented to ensure that our various law enforcement agencies are on the same page when such a terrible crisis is unfolding.

Sadly, Oppal’s bungling decision to upstage his own inquiry with needless provocation has created a backlash that could well undermine the whole process. M

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