May 3, 2011 – Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Grants Standing to Participate in Evidentiary Hearings

VANCOUVER – All of the applicants who applied for standing before the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will be given an opportunity to participate in the evidentiary hearings.

In a ruling released today, Commissioner Wally Oppal, Q.C., granted full participation to 10 applicants and limited participation to eight applicants He also recommended that the provincial government provide funding to 13 applicants who asked for financial support to fund their participation in the inquiry.

Originally, 23 applicants applied for standing. The number was reduced to 18 after Mr. Oppal requested applicants to form coalitions of groups with similar interests.

Full participants will be able to take part in all phases of the Commission’s evidentiary hearings including cross examining witnesses and making submissions. They will also have access to the documents disclosed to the Commission.

Limited participants will have access to documents and will have the right to make final submissions at the conclusion of the evidentiary hearings, but they will need to apply to Mr. Oppal on an individual witness basis to cross examine witnesses.

Mr. Oppal said the applicants that have been granted full participation tend to be grass roots advocacy and service organizations that have direct and daily contact with the community, including with many of the women who were reported missing.

“These groups are closer to the facts at issue. Most of these groups were front line lobbyists for public attention to the missing and murdered women and, ultimately, for the establishment of a public inquiry. I am also mindful that many of these organizations have limited resources and their involvement in this Commission may provide a unique opportunity for their voices and perspectives to be heard,” he said.

The limited participants are organizations primarily focused on the policy issues of the Commission’s mandate. Most are experienced political or policy organizations that have demonstrated a long standing commitment to many of the policy issues the Commission will confront. They have worked for policy or legal reform, represented or advocated special interests in governmental or political arenas, conducted research and published studies or engaged in public education.

“These groups will be extremely valuable in assisting the Commission make recommendations for missing women and homicide investigations and the coordination of investigations by multiple police forces,” said Mr. Oppal.

He noted that in other commissions, it might not be appropriate to grant these policy groups status to participate in the evidentiary hearings at all. However, the subject matter of the Missing Women Inquiry had caused him to find there is a different, but important role for these applicants to play in the evidentiary hearings.

The creation of two levels of participation best achieves the objective of the Commission: to explore fully all of the issues from multiple perspectives in a timely manner.

“While the Commission wishes to be as inclusive as possible in considering these many applications, we also must have a hearing process that will support the Commission in its need to be both thorough and timely,” said Mr. Oppal.

He added that he fully expects the limited participants also to play a leading role in the study portion of the inquiry. In particular, the First Nations and Aboriginal applicants accepted as limited participants are in a position to offer unique policy advice as to the future conduct of missing women investigations, particularly given the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women reported missing.

Full participants are:
• Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Police Board
• Government of Canada
• Criminal Justice Branch
• Families of Dawn Crey, Cara Ellis, Cynthia Dawn Feliks, Marnie Frey, Helen Mae Hallmark, Georgina Papin, Dianne Rock and Mona Wilson as represented by A. Cameron Ward
• Vancouver Police Union
• Coalition of Sex Worker-Serving Organizations
• The Committee of the February 14 Women’s Memorial March and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
• Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Walk4Justice and Frank Paul Society
• Native Women’s Association of Canada
• Dr. Kim Rossmo

Limited participants are:
• BC Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International and PIVOT Legal Society
• Ending Violence Association of BC and West Coast LEAF
• Assembly of First Nations
• Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs
• Women’s Equality & Security Coalition
• Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC
• First Nations Summit
• CRAB – Water for Life Society

Mr. Oppal recommended financial support for the following full participants:
• The Families as represented by A. Cameron Ward
• Coalition of Sex Worker-Serving Organizations
• The Committee of the February 14 Women’s Memorial March and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
• Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Walk4Justice and Frank Paul Society
• Native Women’s Association of Canada
• Dr. Kim Rossmo

He recommended funding for the following limited participants:
• BC Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International and PIVOT Legal Society
• Ending Violence Association of BC and West Coast LEAF
• Assembly of First Nations
• Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs
• Women’s Equality & Security Coalition
• Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC
• First Nations Summit

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the British Columbia provincial government last year to inquire into the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002. The Commission’s terms of reference also allow it to inquire into the investigation of missing women and suspected multiple murders throughout the province.

In addition, the Commission will examine the decision by the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998 to stop legal proceedings against Robert William Pickton on charges of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault.

The Commission’s mandate includes a “hearing” commission and a “study” commission. 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 the commission counsel and the commissioner, and there is no cross examination. Groups and individuals that that want to participate in the study commission need not apply for standing.

The inquiry’s study commission forums are expected to begin in Northern B.C. in mid-June. The hearing commission’s legal proceedings are expected to begin later in the year.

Mr. Oppal’s full ruling on participation has been posted on the Commission’s website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca under the “Rulings” tab.

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