April 23, 2012 – Letter to the Editor

April 23, 2012

Dear Editor,

It is time for the people of British Columbia to lend their voices on how our most vulnerable women can be made safer.

Along with the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry hearings, we are set to hold a series of six important Public Policy Forums as a component of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Study Commission.

These forums will be held in downtown Vancouver from May 1 to May 10, 2012 and will focus on how to improve the safety and security of vulnerable women. More information can be found by going to the Commission’s website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca.

The Public Policy Forums need the input, feedback and ideas of the people of British Columbia. While the information gathered in these forums is not considered evidence relevant to the testimony put forward in the hearings, your input will provide me with proposals for change and related contextual information that will help to inform the writing of my report.

We need to hear from you—as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and friends. We need to hear from you as a person, as a fellow human being, as someone who cares about improving the safety and security of vulnerable women who are still at risk today. We need you to tell us what you feel needs to be addressed, improved upon and changed—so a report can be produced that has practical, effective recommendations that can be implemented in the real world that we live in.

While space is limited at the Public Policy Forums in Vancouver, there are many additional ways to participate. The forums will be live streamed via our website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca. You can provide your feedback via email at participate@missingwomeninquiry.ca or send a letter to us at #1402 – 808 Nelson Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2H2.

We are asking the good people of British Columbia to stand up and tell us what you believe needs to be done to help save the lives of vulnerable women at extreme risk.

Regards,

Wally Oppal, Q.C., Commissioner
Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

April 5, 2012 – Update from Commissioner Wally Oppal

(Information attributable to Mr. Wally Oppal, Q.C., Commissioner)

I realize that there are many concerns about the anonymous allegations reported this week in the National Post. I find it challenging that such serious allegations outlined in two articles are all based on anonymous sources.

I have often said that we welcome criticism and feedback and that we strive to learn from what has been done. I believe we should be held to the highest standard. I am disappointed that the people that felt strongly enough to go to the media with their concerns are not willing to identify themselves. Responding to criticisms from anonymous sources is challenging because specifics are not provided and there is little to no context surrounding the limited information put forward in these serious allegations.

I want to be very clear here – especially under the cloud of new allegations put forward by the National Post – the work being done by this Commission is excellent. I have every confidence in the information and knowledge that has been gained to date and I know that we will learn a great deal more over the coming weeks through the panel hearings, the upcoming workshops and public forums, and the research that is being done. To call the quality of the work of the Commission into question through anonymous sources is unreasonable and, I believe, unfair.

I have every confidence that this Commission will deliver a report that is valuable and that puts forward effective recommendations that will help to save lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. That is what our objective is – and that is what we are all working towards during this particularly challenging and upsetting period.

While I believe strongly in the people that work for this Commission and in the work that is being done, I also have a responsibility to investigate allegations as serious as those put forward in the National Post. In that regard, we have retained Peter Gall, Q.C. as Independent Counsel to advise us on this matter, including how to proceed with the investigation on the allegations. Mr. Gall is a Senior Partner with the law firm Heenan Blaikie and is one of Canada’s leading administrative law experts.

This Commission has had many challenges. These allegations have greatly affected every one of us at the Commission office. We are focused on the hearings, the upcoming workshops and public forums. We have not lost sight of the importance and value of the work being done here. Throughout this week, I have heard time and time again from Counsel and staff that they are committed to this important work, that they believe in what we are accomplishing here, and that they are confident that this Commission will produce an excellent report with strong recommendations. I am honoured to work with such committed professionals.

April 4, 2012 – Response from Commissioner Wally Oppal To Allegations In The National Post

I am outraged by these anonymous allegations and I take them very seriously. I was first informed about these allegations last Friday morning by Senior Counsel Art Vertlieb, after he was interviewed by Brian Hutchinson of the National Post. Mr. Vertlieb was shocked by these accusations and came to me right after the interview was over. I immediately took the steps to initiate an independent investigation into the allegations.

The behaviour described in the allegations in the article goes against everything I stand for as a human being and as the Commissioner of this Inquiry. Anyone who knows me understands that I am someone who bases my personal and professional relationships on respect. Neither I, nor senior counsel had any knowledge of this kind of behaviour at the Commission. It would not be tolerated.

There have been no formal complaints made and no former employees have come forward with allegations. Had anyone come to me or to senior counsel, we would have immediately launched an investigation and the person responsible would have been dealt with accordingly. Upon learning of these allegations, we engaged the services of an experienced independent investigator (Delayne Sartison, Q.C.) to look into the allegations.

There is no tolerance for the kind of behaviour that is described in the article. No one should ever be made to feel disrespected, demeaned, or harassed in the workplace or in their personal lives. That is unacceptable behaviour.

The Commission staff is made up of professionals who are motivated to make positive change in the world. They work tirelessly and with great commitment to the Commission’s mandate. I spend a great deal of time in the Commission office. In fact, I am in there almost daily. It has always been my personal style to walk around the office and speak one-on-one with people. I do that on a regular basis and no one – not one person – has ever brought up any of the issues outlined in this article to me. There has never been any indication of issues of this nature.

I have always recognized the stressful nature of this work. Since we began, we have made what we believe are strong efforts to provide support to our staff, including offering unrestricted and confidential access to the services of a psychologist in case they have issues they wanted to discuss.

I have every respect for the people that work with this Commission – those that are on staff, those that have worked with us in the past and for everyone who participates in this challenging process on a daily basis. That is what makes these allegations so devastating. These allegations do not reflect who I believe we are as a Commission or as people.

Like every office, we have had budget issues, we have had personality conflicts, we have had contracts that expired or were not renewed. I have felt that throughout all of the hard work, the challenges, the public criticism and the pressures that we always have had respect for one another. Not once has anyone come to me with a complaint about the kind of behaviour that is outlined in this article. I am truly saddened by this.

We will not let these allegations shift our focus over the coming days and weeks from what we are here to achieve – to gather relevant information so that a valuable report can be produced that will have effective recommendations. We all need to remember our objective here – we are here to save the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.

I realize that you will have many questions about this article. I am not able to answer those questions until we have the report from the independent investigation that has been started.

Thank you.

April 2, 2012 – Commissioner Wally Oppal Speaking Notes

Good morning.

I want to take a moment to welcome new counsel – Suzette Narbonne and Elizabeth Hunt. Welcome.

Ms. Narbonne and Ms. Hunt have been appointed to present issues related to Aboriginal interests. Ms. Narbonne and Ms. Hunt are experienced lawyers. I am confident they will bring great value to this process.

Ms. Narbonne started her legal career more than 20 years ago as a staff lawyer with Legal Aid in The Pas, Manitoba. She then spent 16 years working in Prince Rupert. From 2003 to 2009 she served as a governor of the Law Foundation of British Columbia. She also served on a range of committees during her terms: Child Welfare, Funding Strategies, New Grants, New Initiatives, and was Chair of Special Needs Fund. She served as a Bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia from September 2009 to December 2011. She was appointed to the board of the Legal Services Society in May of 2011.

Ms. Hunt is a lawyer and a member of the Kwakiutl Nation. Her practice areas include Aboriginal law, specifically treaty negotiations, residential school claims, corporate and commercial, intellectual property, wills and estates as it relates to Aboriginal interests. She has also been a sessional professor at Thompson Rivers University and University of Victoria. Ms. Hunt has a long history of volunteerism with children and youth in the community. She is a member of the Equity and Diversity Committee of the Law Society of British Columbia.

Ms. Hunt was called to the Bar in B.C. in 1995 and started her career as an associate at the law firms of Mandell Pinder and Cook Roberts. She has been a sole practitioner for the past several years.

Ms. Narbonne and Ms. Hunt have taken on an important role here. A role that I believe is crucial to this process.

I am aware that this Commission has received some criticism because we have appointed Independent Counsel to present issues related to Aboriginal interests. I want to take a moment to speak to this. First off, and I want to be clear – I have a great deal of respect for our critics. I appreciate your feedback and I take it seriously. I also strongly believe that this Inquiry needs independent counsel in this role.

The Aboriginal community is among the most vocal of our critics. I have listened to what has been said and I understand that there are many issues that the Aboriginal community – and other communities – would like to see addressed. They are not wrong. There is much that needs to be done.

The challenge we face is that many of the issues that have been raised do not fall under the mandate of this Commission. I understand the frustration surrounding this. I am also aware that there is strong criticism that we have put too much focus on aspects related to the police. This has made many people upset and angry. And I understand that. As much as I wish we could, this Commission cannot accomplish everything that people want – or need it to. It is important to remember that, at its core, this inquiry is about policing.

That does not mean that other issues and concerns being raised are not important, or that they should not be investigated and addressed. It only means that in the context of our mandate, we are not able to do so through this Inquiry. I am sorry for the anger, frustration and bitterness that this has caused.

This Commission has a specific mandate that we are bound by. This is an inquiry about policing, which includes, in our Terms of Reference, a focus on regional policing and how investigations by more than one investigating organization should be handled. I know that many people feel that it is not enough. But I want to remind you that it is a strong start, and that this Commission is committed to doing the best job possible. We are here to investigate the tragic loss of life, to understand how and why a serial killer was able to prey on our most vulnerable women for an extended period of time without being caught. We – and everyone involved in this Inquiry – are charged with an important and highly emotional task – to discover what happened and why. We must put forward effective recommendations that will make positive change so such a tragedy never happens again. This is not an easy job for anyone involved with this Inquiry. It touches our lives beyond what we experience in this room. It follows us wherever we go, it impacts us in ways we may not even realize… and I doubt it will ever totally leave us. The responsibility of what we have taken on here sits heavily on my shoulders, as I am sure it does for each person that is a part of this process.

Every day, I come to this courtroom with the hope that the groups that have withdrawn their participation will reconsider. No one would disagree that this process needs – in fact, demands – representation of the families of the missing and murdered women – many of whom are Aboriginal – the Aboriginal community, the communities of the Downtown Eastside and the extremely vulnerable women that continue to be victimized today.

I have heard the concerns of the people and the groups that have withdrawn – and I respect their positions. However, I want to take a moment here to say that I strongly believe that the action of withdrawing from this Inquiry is counterproductive. Each group that has withdrawn has an important role here – and by choosing not to participate – you are silencing your own voice in this process. Your voices are the heart and soul of our communities, your voices will bring positive change, your voices will help guide us along the path to a better future, a safer future for our most vulnerable citizens.

The door is always open to any group or person that would like to reconsider their decision.

I believe that we all share one important goal – we want this Commission to produce a report that makes a difference. This is the reason that Ms. Narbonne and Ms. Hunt have been appointed. We need issues related to Aboriginal interests presented by Independent Counsel. Co-counsel in this instance.

I spend a great deal of time thinking about what we, as a Commission, can do better, how we can learn from the feedback, and how we can improve as we move through this process.

This Inquiry has had many challenges. It has become a lightening rod – attracting strong criticism, bearing the weight of the anger and frustration of many people who feel that they have been let down by the police, by Government and by this Commission. This has created tension between many stakeholders and this Commission. And that is regrettable. All of this anger and frustration takes focus and energy away from the important objective of producing a report that will save lives.

I believe that no matter what our differences of opinion, we are all focused on this one important objective – saving the lives of vulnerable women at extreme risk.

As a Commission, we are moving forward with what we have been mandated to do. We have spent a great deal of time listening to the concerns of many people in communities throughout B.C. We have been to Prince Rupert, Prince George, Terrace, Smithers, Moricetown, Gitanyow and Hazelton and heard the concerns of many Aboriginal people at the Community Forums. There have been consultations in the Downtown Eastside, the one-on-one interviews we have done, the individual testimony, the panels that we have heard – and are currently hearing – and our upcoming public forums all provide important information that will help produce a strong report. We continue to listen.

To date, we have heard from 32 witnesses, we have had 64 days of testimony, and we have developed and released eight study reports. We have approximately 20 more days of testimony plus closing submissions to hear, three additional study reports to release and seven workshops and public forums to hold. There is still a great deal to do over the next months before the final report is produced. We are focused on developing a report with solid recommendations that will be effective in saving lives.

It is my hope that we can make a shift, starting today, in how we move forward together. I am not asking our critics to quiet their voices, I am not asking the groups that have withdrawn to go against their principles – I respect every opinion that has been voiced. I just want to make sure that we don’t allow our differences to become a roadblock to doing something of value, to producing a report that makes a difference.

Today, I ask that everyone involved take a moment to look at this process from an important perspective. I ask you to think about what we are trying to achieve here and to clear your vision of your criticisms – just for a moment. Look at what can be done instead of what is not being done. See it through the eyes of one person… as a sister, brother, father, mother, daughter, son, or a friend of someone who has been or could be at risk… View what can be done instead of what you feel isn’t being done. Look at it from the point of view of someone who can help save lives in the future by doing something, even if it feels like it isn’t enough.

I realize that there are things we could have done differently. I think it is important to become better every day and to learn from what has been done.

We are here because we are committed to making positive change. I believe that every person here – every person that has shared their voice in criticism and in support, every person that has spoken up and spoken out – comes here with that same goal: to make positive change.

We cannot let the Willie Picktons of the world triumph because we get caught up in how things should be and aren’t. We can’t let politics, bureaucracy, anger or frustration with a process or any other issues be our driving force. We must look to our hearts and decide, as human beings, that we will not let evil triumph. We will do something to stop it.

I know that this process is not perfect, but it is a start. I believe that together we can make an important difference. We can help save lives.

Everyone involved wants to know what went wrong so we can make sure that it never happens again – so that another monster cannot again prey upon vulnerable women. We want to make sure that what Willie Pickton did – does not and cannot happen again.

I am asking you to contribute to this process in whatever way you feel is of value. If that is as a critic, we welcome your feedback. If it is to attend the hearings or the public forums and tell us your story, that is important. If it is to send me an email and tell me what you believe needs to be done to help our most vulnerable people, that is needed. All I ask is that you do something – because that is how we will triumph over evil.

I want to leave you with a quote, because it is one that I believe speaks to the heart of this process. It is attributed to Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Together we can make a huge difference to the lives of vulnerable women at extreme risk. I hope that out there in this courtroom, in this city and in this Province, there are people – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who believe this too because together, we form that small group, the one that can – and will – change the world.

Thank you.

March 28, 2012 – Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Releases New Study Reports

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has released four new reports that form part of the study commission aspect of its mandate.

The reports, which are available on the Commission’s website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/reports-and-publications/ are:

  • Practices and Procedures in the Investigation of Missing Persons Across Canada: 1997 to Present analyzes information received from 20 Canadian police agencies that responded to surveys distributed by the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry regarding missing persons practices and procedures.

 

  • Comparative Approaches to Missing Persons Procedures: An Overview of British, American and Australian Policies provides an overview of comparative missing persons policies from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. It outlines the scope of missing person issues and describes the agencies involved in missing person investigations. It includes the degree of federal or national coordination of missing person investigations.

 

  • Policies and Practices in the Investigation of Missing Persons and Suspected Multiple Homicides identifies and discusses issues related to police policies and practices in the investigation of missing persons and suspected multiple homicides. This policy discussion report was developed on the basis of a review of Canadian and international reports on the phenomenon of missing and murdered women and best practices in missing person and serial homicide investigations.

 

This paper concludes by posing a number of questions designed to stimulate public discussion and input to the Commission’s work. These questions include:

  •  Are existing BC police standards for missing person investigations comprehensive and effective?  What gaps remain to be filled?
  • Should standards be set at the local, provincial and/or national level?
  • Is risk assessment effectively incorporated into missing person policies and practices?
  • What support systems are required to facilitate effective investigations of missing women and suspected multiple homicides?

 

  • Towards More Effective Missing Women Investigations: Police Relationships with Victims’ Families, the Community and the Media identifies options for improving police responses to missing person cases with a focus on “external” issues relating to how police interact with families and others reporting a missing person, communities and the media in the context of missing person investigations.  

 

This paper concludes by posing a number of questions designed to stimulate public discussion and input to the Commission’s work. These questions include:

  • What steps need to be taken to build an effective network of support for families and friends of missing persons? 
  • How can police-community partnerships be developed and used effectively in both prevention and investigation efforts in the context of missing persons, particularly vulnerable and marginalized women who face high risks of going missing? 
  • What steps can be taken to build community skills and community engagement in missing person investigations? 
  • Should the media be encouraged to develop standards for reporting in missing person cases? 

 

The Commission released four reports in February and will be issuing several additional reports in the coming weeks.

The Commission invites written submissions on the issues discussed in the reports and on other issues within its terms of reference by April 15, 2012. Information on how to make a submission is on the Commission’s website at:  /ways-to-participate/

The study commission reports and written submissions received from individuals and organizations will assist in the development of the Commission’s Policy Forums to be held in early May and the Commission’s report and recommendations.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is conducting a range of research and consultation activities to gather the information required to make effective recommendations for province-wide change.

Additional policy discussion and research reports will be published as they become available.

All of the reports were prepared for consideration by the Commission and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Commissioner or Commission staff. No findings of fact will be made based on these reports and no conclusions have been reached to date on the issues raised in them.

About the Commission:

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the B.C. provincial government in September 2010 with a mandate to inquire into the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, and to review 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; to recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in B.C. of missing women and suspected multiple homicides; and to recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in B.C. by more than one investigating organization, including the coordination of those investigations. The Commission is currently scheduled to report back to the Attorney General by the end of June 2012.

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March 21, 2012 – Appointment of Independent Counsel presenting issues related to Aboriginal interests announced

(Information attributable to Mr. Art Vertlieb, Q.C., Commission Counsel)


Commissioner Wally Oppal has appointed lawyers Suzette Narbonne and Elizabeth Hunt as Independent Co-Counsel to present issues related to Aboriginal interests. Commissioner Oppal believes that this role is crucial to ensure that Aboriginal interests are presented at the Inquiry.

Both Ms. Narbonne and Ms. Hunt are respected, experienced legal professionals. Commissioner Oppal has every confidence in each lawyer’s ability.

Suzette Narbonne Biography
Ms. Narbonne started her legal career as a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Manitoba in The Pas, Manitoba. She was called to the Bar in Manitoba in June 1989 and in British Columbia in May 1995, when she moved to Prince Rupert. She lived in Prince Rupert until January 2011. She now makes her home in Gibsons, B.C., where she continues as a sole practitioner, primarily in the fields of criminal law and human rights.

While in Prince Rupert, Ms. Narbonne was on the executive of the Rupert Runners and was actively involved with other non-profit organizations. She was recognized for her community service in Prince Rupert County by the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. branch, in 2008.

Ms. Narbonne served as a governor of the Law Foundation of British Columbia for six years (2003 to 2009). She served on the following committees during her terms: Child Welfare, Funding Strategies, New Grants, New Initiatives, and Special Needs Fund (Chair). She served as a Bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia from September 2009 to December 2011. She was appointed to the board of the Legal Services Society in May of 2011.

Elizabeth Hunt Biography
Ms. Hunt is a lawyer and a member of the Kwakiutl Nation. Her practice areas include aboriginal law, specifically treaty negotiations, residential school claims, corporate and commercial, intellectual property, wills and estates as it relates to Aboriginal interests. She has also been a sessional professor at Thompson Rivers University and University of Victoria. Ms. Hunt has a long history of volunteerism with children and youth in the community. She is a member of the Equity and Diversity Committee of the Law Society of British Columbia.

Ms. Hunt was called to the Bar in B.C. in 1995 and started her career as an associate at the law firms of Mandell Pinder and Cook Roberts. She has been a sole practitioner for the past several years.

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March 12, 2012 – Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to Stand Down Until April 2, 2012

(Information attributable to Mr. Art Vertlieb, Q.C., Commission Counsel)

Commissioner Wally Oppal today directed the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to stand down until April 2, 2012. This decision was made to allow the Commissioner to appoint independent counsel to present issues related to Aboriginal interests. This role is crucial in ensuring that Aboriginal interests are represented at the Inquiry.

The District 2 panel was allowed to conclude today.

On April 2, the process will proceed with the Native Liaison Society Panel. Commission counsel is making arrangements to have evidence presented the week of April 9. The families of 25 missing and murdered women are confirmed for participation during the week of April 16. 

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February 21, 2012 – Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Releases Study Reports

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has released four reports that form part of the study commission aspect of its mandate.

The reports, which are available on the Commission’s website at www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/reports-and-publications/ are:

  • Standing Together and Moving Forward: Report on the Pre-Hearing Conference in Prince George and the Northern Community Forums, which consolidates what the Commission heard at these events, identifies seven issues and themes addressed in the presentations and consolidates the recommendations for action made by the presenters.
  •  

  • Downtown Eastside Consultation Program Report provides an overview of the Commission’s Downtown Eastside consultation program from October to December 2011, and summarizes the issues identified by presenters and their recommendations for change.
  •  

  • Policy Discussion Report: Police Protection of Vulnerable and Marginalized Women examines what steps can be taken to enable police to protect women more effectively and to prevent these crimes from occurring based on a review of Canadian and international reports on missing and murdered women and the prevention of violence against women, and on reviews of systemic misconduct and discrimination within police forces.
  •  

  • Municipal Policing in the Lower Mainland District of British Columbia provides factual information on municipal policing in British Columbia by independent municipal police departments and contract RCMP detachments within Metro Vancouver.


The Commission invites written submissions on the issues discussed in the reports and on other issues within its terms of reference by April 15, 2012. Information on how to make a submission is on the Commission’s website at /ways-to-participate/

The study commission reports and written submissions received from individuals and organizations will assist in the development of the Commission’s Policy Forums to be held in early May and the Commission’s report and recommendations.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is conducting a range of research and consultation activities to gather the information required to make effective recommendations for province-wide change.

Additional policy discussion and research reports will be published as they become available.

All of the reports were prepared for consideration by the Commission and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Commissioner or Commission staff. No findings of fact will be made based on these reports and no conclusions have been reached to date on the issues raised in them.

The Commissioner gratefully acknowledges the assistance provided by all of those who participated in and supported the consultations in the Downtown Eastside and in the northern communities.

About the Commission:

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the B.C. provincial government in September 2010 with a mandate to inquire into the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, and to review 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; to recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in B.C. of missing women and suspected multiple homicides; and to recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in B.C. by more than one investigating organization, including the coordination of those investigations. The Commission is currently scheduled to report back to the Attorney General by the end of June, 2012.

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February 21, 2012 – Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to Hear from Panels of Witnesses

(Information attributable to Mr. Art Vertlieb, Q.C., Commission Counsel)

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is and always has been about saving lives. It is a unique opportunity to change the way we police our streets and investigate violent crimes against vulnerable and marginalized women currently at risk in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and across British Columbia.

Our mandate is to inquire into the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, and to review 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 work we have done over the past few months to meet our mandate has helped us understand what went wrong and why. This process will continue as we hear from more witnesses in the weeks ahead.

The inquiry’s 52 days of hearings so far have produced valuable information. Having lawyers for the participants cross examine witnesses in an adversarial process has been a necessary and important component and has already answered many of the questions we had about how the police investigation was conducted.

We have heard from family members and community leaders, from expert witnesses who provided context, from RCMP and VPD officers who conducted their own internal investigations, from Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans, who reviewed the case files and interviewed investigating officers, and from some of the lead investigators themselves. In addition, Commission staff has reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documentation related to the investigation.

The Commissioner now has a clear picture of the chronology of events and has heard evidence of the systemic shortcomings that contributed to the failure of the police investigation.

Today, the Commissioner announced that starting next week, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will begin hearing from some of the remaining witnesses in panel form. Hearing from witnesses in panels is a common and beneficial process for public inquiries.

Under this format, the Commissioner will invite input from panels of witnesses representing different interest groups, including the families, the Downtown Eastside Community, Aboriginal women, civic interests and police forces. Today, he asked Aboriginal leaders and other community leaders to help him develop this panel process.

We will still be calling individual witnesses where certain issues of fact may be in question, and counsel for participants will be able to cross examine them as has been happening up to now.

The panels on the other hand, will be a dialogue among participants who will be encouraged to share their experiences and insights. The panels will be a forum for generating ideas on how to protect vulnerable women and save lives.

We believe this approach will provide witnesses with another opportunity to contribute constructively and positively to our work by telling their stories and making suggestions that will help the Commissioner develop practical and effective recommendations for change.

The hearings will continue to be open to the media and the public and we encourage individuals who have important information to contribute to come forward and participate.

In addition to this new format, the Commissioner will initiate and facilitate a dialogue forum of representatives of the police, the families, civic officials and the community to work with him and the Commission staff to develop process recommendations for implementing his report and working together in the future.

I want to stress that the Commissioner’s objective is to make recommendations necessary to help save the lives of marginalized women at risk right now in the Downtown Eastside and in communities throughout British Columbia where women continue to go missing and where unresolved homicides may be the work of a serial killer.

At the end of the day, this Commission cannot eradicate serial killers from our society, but it can and will help ensure that serial killers are identified and stopped far sooner than appears to have happened in the Pickton case. It will help save lives.

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December 1, 2011 – Policy Forums Invitation

POLICY FORUMS ­ INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE

 The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will be holding Policy Forums in Vancouver beginning on May 1, 2012.    The Policy Forums will provide an opportunity for interested individuals and organizations to make submissions to  the Commission on issues within the advisory and policy aspects of its mandate.

The Missing  Women  Commission  of  Inquiry  was  established  to  inquire  into  the  initiation  and conduct of investigations of missing women and suspected multiple homicides. Formal hearings are  currently being held to inquire into the investigation of women missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver  in 1997‐2002. The Policy Forums are separate and distinct from these evidentiary hearings and will focus on two of the Commission’s terms of reference:

4. c)          recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides; and

4. d)          recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in British Columbia by more than one investigating organization, including the co‐ ordination of those investigations.

The Commission has identified four major policy themes arising from its mandate:

1.          Police protection of vulnerable and marginalized women;

2.          Structure and organization of the police force in British Columbia, including the issue of regionalization in the Lower Mainland;

3.          Policies and practices in the investigation of missing persons and suspected multiple homicides; and

4.          Police relationships with the community and media.

The Commission will be publishing policy discussion reports on these themes by January 31, 2012. The purpose of these reports is to facilitate public input and to assist in deliberations on potential policy  recommendations. Theidentification  of  these  policy  themes  is  not  intended  to  limit submissions: individuals and organizations are free to make submissions on any policy issue within the Commission’s mandate.

Individuals and  organizations  interested  in  participating  in  the  Policy  Forums  must  provide  a written submission setting out their policy recommendation(s) and discussion to the Commission by March 31, 2012. Details regarding the venue, number and format of these sessions will depend upon the number and range of submissions received.  Invitations to participate in the forums will be announced in April 2012.

For further information, please contact Elizabeth Welch, Policy Researcher:

ewelch@missingwomeninquiry.ca or 604.681.4470.