August 10, 2011 – Missing Women Commission Appoints Two Independent Lawyers; Two Others to Participate Pro Bono

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry announced today that it has hired two independent lawyers on contract to help ensure that the perspectives of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side community and Aboriginal women are presented at the inquiry, which is scheduled to start on October 11.

The two Vancouver-based lawyers, Mr. Jason Gratl, a past president of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and Ms. Robyn Gervais, who previously represented the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council at the Commission, will not represent specific clients. They will work independently of the Commission with a mandate to serve the public interest at the hearings. They are expected to take guidance from unfunded participant groups and affected organizations and individuals.

The Commission also announced that two prominent Vancouver lawyers, Mr. Bryan Baynham Q.C. and Mr. Darrell Roberts Q.C., will participate pro bono in the inquiry in support of Ms. Gervais.

Commission spokesperson, Chris Freimond, said Commissioner Wally Oppal and his staff are confident that the participation of the four lawyers will contribute significantly to the Commission’s ability to conduct a relevant inquiry leading to findings and recommendations that will make a real difference to the people of British Columbia and Canada.

“The Commission has worked hard to prepare for the hearings and believes that when they begin on October 11, it will become clear that the resources and structure are in place to deal thoroughly with the important issues in a way that satisfies British Columbians,” said Mr. Freimond.

He added that the knowledge and understanding of the Downtown East Side community and Aboriginal women’s issues that Mr. Gratl and Ms. Gervais bring to the inquiry will help ensure that the perspectives of these communities are presented at the hearings. They will also be able to test evidence at the inquiry in an adversarial role, if so required, as will Mr. Baynham and Mr. Roberts, two of Vancouver most senior and respected lawyers.

While it is not known at this stage what the cost of hiring Mr. Gratl and Ms. Gervais will be, the Commission has the budget to fund their services because it has reallocated resources and benefitted from cost savings in its investigations, which did not take as much time as previously anticipated.

The Commission’s hearings will begin in Vancouver on October 11, 2011. They will be divided into four broad categories. The order has yet to be confirmed, but the categories are:

  1. The Downtown East Side (DTES) community, families of the murdered and missing women and the actions of the city and provincial government with respect to the Pickton investigation;
  2. The conduct of Vancouver Police Department between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002 with respect to the murdered and missing women from the DTES;
  3. The Conduct of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002 with respect to the murdered and missing women from the DTES; and
  4. Decision by the Criminal Justice Branch to stay the 1997 charges against Robert Pickton;

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 gather information and make recommendations on the conduct of investigations 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.

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