March 3, 2011 – Missing Women Commission Provides Status Report, Recommends Broader Mandate to Address Community Concerns

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has recommended to the B.C. provincial government that its mandate be broadened to include a study commission so that it can provide a better opportunity for participation by groups and individuals who wish to focus on the policy issues related to missing and murdered women.

In a Status Report published today, Commissioner Wally Oppal, Q.C., said a joint study and hearing commission will enable the Commission to craft a more focused, but still thorough hearing process while ensuring that both processes are procedurally fair.

“In the result, I believe the Commission may be able to more efficiently fulfill its various mandates,” said Mr. Oppal.

A “study” commission is less formal than a “hearing” commission and tends to focus more on research, the gathering of information and the discussion of policy issues. It is not adversarial, questions are posed to participants by commission counsel and the commissioner, and there is no cross examination.

Mr. Oppal believes a study commission is a more appropriate forum than the hearing commission for communities to raise concerns and make submissions, and for the discussion of the type of policy issues that have been raised in community meetings and in the media regarding missing and murdered women.

He said community feedback over the past few months has made it clear that:
• The Commission’s process should be accessible and community-driven rather than adversarial;
• Vulnerable and marginalized individuals should not be discouraged or made to feel excluded by an overly formalized process;
• The emotional needs of the victims’ families should be respected and supported;
• Aboriginal groups should be consulted in a manner that is culturally sensitive; and
• The northern communities affected by the ongoing Highway of Tears investigation should be given an opportunity to participate in the Commission’s activities.

“The additional powers of a study commission would allow us to address the concerns of the community by giving the Commission increased flexibility over its process, including the ability to engage directly with the public outside of the formal hearing process,” said Mr. Oppal.

He added that a study commission could also provide an opportunity for participation by groups and individuals who may not strictly meet the test for standing in the hearing commission.

In view of his recommendation to establish a joint study and hearing commission, Mr. Oppal said he has decided to defer his decision on applications for standing from groups and individuals who want to participate in the Commission’s hearings until he receives a response from the government.

Mr. Oppal heard applications for standing from 18 groups and individuals on January 31. He had earlier granted standing to four groups that have a clear legal interest in the Commission’s work.

He said it is clear that some applicants for standing have a stronger interest in policy issues. A study commission could be a better forum for groups that do not want full participation in the evidentiary process of the hearing commission.

The Braidwood Commission into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after he was tasered by an RCMP officer at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007 was a study and hearing commission. The study phase focused on the use of tasers in B.C. by police forces other than the RCMP. It resulted in a report that included 19 recommendations to the provincial government regarding the appropriate use of tasers by law enforcement agencies in the province.

Mr. Oppal’s full Status Report is available in the Reports and Publications section on the Commission’s website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca

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