This morning there were more than 150 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside standing in the middle of the intersection of Granville and Georgia Streets, demanding that their voices be heard at their own Inquiry.
It was simultaneously heartbreaking and amazing.
Amazing, because of the power and voice of these women who have been ignored, abused, silence and shut out, some of them since birth.
Heartbreaking, because their Inquiry, the one they've been demanding for twenty years, was starting seven floors up, in an anonymous black office tower, without them. The Inquiry that is meant to be one step towards ending the violence they face every day was demonstrating exactly how little the voices of these women mattered to the agenda of getting through the scheduled police paperwork and witnesses.
Supporting these women in the street was National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Sean A-in-chut Atleo, who pledged to make the fact that marginalized aboriginal women have been shut out of their own inquiry an international issue. His organization had asked for, and been refused, an adjournment until the issue of the participation of DTES women was resolved.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs expressed his frustration that the Inquiry was proceeding without the women of the Downtown Eastside by calling for the resignation of Commissioner Wally Oppal. The crowd of women began a chant of "Oppal resign," along with other chants like "We want justice" and "Enough is enough."
At one stage the Vancouver Police were lined up at the front door of the Federal Court building, apparently concerned that the women would attempt to attend their own Inquiry en masse. The images of police physically barring the women of the DTES from their own hearings was probably not a photo op they were hoping for. In the end, the police were very laid back, cordoning off a one block radius around the demonstration and keeping well away from the action, and the news cameras.
Those attending the opening statements at the Inquiry said that the demonstration could be heard in the hearing room, and that it was having a major effect on the tone of the hearings. What will also have an impact, and not a positive one, is that the voices of these women who live in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood will only be heard at this Inquiry, as it is currently structured, from the street.
The protest is scheduled to take place again tomorrow morning (Oct. 12, 2011), 9:30 a.m., 701 West Georgia.
These women must be heard, and they will be heard. They made that much very clear this morning, and I expect the same will happen tomorrow. Read More from David Eby Here