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NEWS RELEASE · 8th October 2011
David Eby
How law pushes people to the margins, and keeps them there.

With 14 groups having now pulled out of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, a protest is scheduled for 9:30 at the Federal Court Building at 701 West Georgia Street. Here are five good reasons to think about getting yourself downtown to join the protest, even if you haven't ever protested before:

Reason One: Senior lawyers who have been hired at a rate of $1,500 per day after twenty years of protests by the poorest women in society, and whose jobs only exist because of the protests of those women, now say they don't need those women to participate to hold a successful inquiry.

When the Provincial government was asked to intervene in the Inquiry to fix it, they used blandishments from the senior Commission lawyer that everything was just fine in order to justify not intervening. "We understand that counsel to the Commissioner has said he is satisfied that the Commission's mandate can be fulfilled in this light."

Commissioner Oppal is earning a reported $1,500 per day. It's hard to imagine anyone on the senior management team earning significantly less. They got these jobs because women who live on $235/month or less protested for years, demanding this Inquiry. For these lawyers to now say they can do the job without these women is remarkable, shows no understanding of the history of this process and is simply wrong.

Reason Two: It's not a fair fight.

A minimum of 14 publicly funded lawyers for the police and government are arrayed against two lawyers for the family members, and two independent lawyers "representing" the community interests. The Commission deemed itself to need 9 lawyers. The provincial government keeps insisting that some other senior lawyers are volunteering some time to help, but until I hear that anybody in the DTES has had any interaction with them, I'll have trouble believing it.

Either the police and government should get together and make do with two independent lawyers who represent their interests, or a fully funded 14 lawyer team should be handed over to the Community. Fair's fair.

Reason Three: The police want to protect sex offenders, not victims and prospective victims.

The police have advanced a suggestion that sex offender names should be removed from documentary records before they become public, automatically. No lawyer needed. They don't even have to ask.

However, the police suggest that women should be able to "apply" for the same protections sex offenders get automatically.

What does apply mean? Women simply need to get their lawyer to compile evidence about why they need protection and hand it over to the Commissioner, and then the police can argue for, or against, the women being able to protect her identity. Her lawyer will argue for her being able to protect her identity and the Commissioner will make a decision. Spotted the problems with this plan yet?

The women have no lawyers. The police, who may be the targets of information these women want to provide, will decide who should and shouldn't be fighting for the right to provide information anonymously. A bunch of privileged lawyers who have never been in a dark lane by themselves at risk of murder because they have no other choice will decide whether these women's safety issues are valid or not. Not that any women would come forward anyway to subject themselves to this process.

Reason Four: Only non-police groups with no chance of getting lawyers without funding were given the right to ask whatever questions they want.

Human rights groups like Amnesty and BCCLA, women's rights groups, and Indigenous leadership groups, were given "limited standing" which means they can only ask questions of witnesses with the permission of the Commissioner. These are also the groups who, in the absence of funding, would most likely still be able to have lawyers show up. Amnesty wasn't even asking for funding.

Groups given full standing, and the right to ask questions on cross examination, like the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, have no chance of full time lawyers on the Inquiry without funding. Police, of course, can ask whatever questions they please.

Reason Five: Special rights and privileges for police, not for women.

The police, including current and former police officers, got automatic full standing without any public hearing. A police officer who joined the hearing just four weeks ago got full standing and two fully funded lawyers paid for from the public purse. Public interest groups had to make submissions at a public hearing to get partial standing. No lawyers have been provided to represent the direct interests of any one group or coalition other than family members.

Police are in the back room advising the Commissioner on the meaning of various documents. Police in the front room have the most senior and respected lawyers in Vancouver on bottomless retainers. The women, who this inquiry is about, and for, have been shut out.

See you Tuesday morning.

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