NEWS

Oppal defends Pickton probe after inquiry lawyer quits

03/06/2012 05:56 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

The commissioner overseeing the inquiry into the Robert Pickton serial killer case is defending the hearings against allegations they are ignoring the voices of First Nations.

Lawyer Robyn Gervais, who was appointed to represent the interests of aboriginals at the hearings, has resigned after complaining the focus has almost entirely been on police and not the First Nations women Pickton targeted.

"Given that these hearings are largely about missing and murdered aboriginal, I didn't think I'd have to fight to have their voices heard," she said.

"I think I should have been provided those four days without any question."

Gervais says she has faced resistance in calling First Nations witnesses, making it impossible to investigate whether systemic bias played a part in the failure of police to catch Pickton.

'You always had my support'

Commissioner Wally Oppal says he's disappointed Gervais has decided to resign, and that the only way to have a voice at the inquiry is to be there.

"You always had my support, I just want you to know, and you still have my support," he said.

"I want the aboriginal community to come here and I'll say it one more time — it doesn't do anyone any good, particularly aboriginal interests, to walk away from an inquiry."

Oppal acknowledges that he, too, is concerned about two dozen lawyers representing police departments and individual officers, but says people and agencies that have been criticized deserve a chance to defend themselves.

Outside the hearing, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Philip told reporters the hearing has become a travesty where police officers reminisce about the good old days.

Gervais was among two lawyers appointed last year to represent the interests of First Nations and Downtown Eastside residents, after the provincial government refused to fund lawyers for various non-profit advocacy groups.

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