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Two human rights groups pull out of Canadian missing women inquiry


Story from News 1130, Friday, October 7, 2011

Two major human rights groups are pulling out of the Missing Women Inquiry set up to investigate the murder and disappearence of women in British Columbia, calling it fundamentally flawed.

The BC Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International say they simply can’t take part.

“We will not be participating in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry hearings,” says the Association’s Micheal Vonn.

She says they have pushed to get funding for community groups granted representation at the inquiry to no avail and the process is stacked against them.

“The government and the police have on their side of the table at least 14 fully funded lawyers.  Two lawyers who are representing all of the community groups are on the other side of the table,” she says.

Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal has asked the province to fund the community groups he is allowing to take part but the government has refused, citing budget constraints.

Vonn says they will still support families of missing and murdered women whose lawyers are being paid for. She notes the situation is similar to when families told police years ago their sisters, wives and daughters were going missing but police were slow to act.

“The idea that the voices of the affected were disregarded, marginalized and not listened to is exactly the process that many of those groups are saying is being replicated here,” says Vonn.

Speaking from Ottawa, Alex Neve with Amnesty International Canada says Amnesty has never before had to withdraw from a Canadian public inquiry when it was given standing.

“We welcomed the government’s decision to set up the inquiry and knew immediately that we would want to be involved.  But a year later, it has become apparent that this inquiry is proceeding in a manner that simply aggravates and deepens the very inequities it purports to address,” says Neve.

“It is wholly unacceptable for an inquiry that is meant to grapple with fundamental concerns about marginalization and equal access to justice to cavalierly sideline and exclude the very communities whose rights and needs are at stake,” he says.

Meanwhile, members of the the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the Women’s Memorial March Committee say they are planning a protest on the first day of the inquiry hearings, October 11th.

Organizers say they have also filed a complaint to the United Nations.

WVoN comment: It seems safe to say that this is one of the most contentious inquiries ever held (see WVoN coverage).  Last month we reported on another group – the Pivot Legal Society – that withdrew for exactly the same reasons as these organisations. It’s time for the government to get a grip and acknowledge that disadvantaged women are as entitled to justice as anyone else.

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