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The Significance Of B.C.'s Missing Women Inquiry Report

Posted: 12/15/2012 5:31 pm

On Monday, the B.C. government of British Columbia will publicly release the highly anticipated final report of the controversial Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Established in 2010 and headed by Wally Oppal, this inquiry was charged with examining a number of key issues pertaining to the investigation and legal handling of Vancouver's Missing Women cases, and to make recommendations based on these findings.

The proceedings of the inquiry were marred by the exclusion of a number of key witnesses, forced to withdraw because the province refused to provide any financial assistance to those appearing before the inquiry, as well as the resignation of Robyn Gervais, an independent lawyer appointed to represent aboriginal interests at the inquiry.

A coalition of legal groups (Pivot Legal Society, West Coast Leaf, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association) has released a report condemning the Inquiry as a miscarriage of justice.

While it's tempting to dismiss this report on the basis of the inquiry's many problematic elements, I see this as a critical political moment on at least two counts:

  1. This report will likely inform the investigation and handling of similar cases in Canada for the foreseeable future.

  2. This is an opportunity to observe a formal state response to violence against women.


Police often rely on the findings of such inquiries to guide contemporary investigations - indeed, the report of the VPD's internal investigation of the handling of the Missing Women case suggests that the Missing Women investigation relied on the findings of the review into the Paul Bernardo murder investigation, and sought advice from other law enforcement agencies who had handled similar cases involving the deaths and disappearances of prostitutes.

In this way, this final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is significant because it will likely inform how future investigations are carried out. Importantly, particularly for those of us interested in ending violence against women and girls, this is a critical opportunity to observe the inner workings of a formal state response to this violence, which in turn, better prepares us for engaging the Canadian state on this issue.

There are, however, a number of groups in Canada for whom this report carries particular and pressing significance. Perhaps most prominently, this report will have consequences for those in prostitution. Prostitution is the crux of the Missing Women investigation, with consideration of bias against prostitutes serving as critical component of interrogations of the investigation and handling of this case, including that undertaken by the Missing Women Inquiry. Consequently, the findings of this report are particularly important for those in the sex trade.

This report will also have particular significance for aboriginal women and girls in Canada. While often unacknowledged in mainstream accounts, it is estimated that anywhere from one-third to half of the Missing Women were of aboriginal ancestry. Importantly, the Missing Women case is just one example of the extreme violence experienced by aboriginal women and girls across Canada.

It is estimated, for example, that hundreds, if not thousands, of aboriginal women and girls have gone missing or been murdered across Canada over the last 30 years. Additionally, a number of these cases have involved aboriginal women and girls in prostitution, because aboriginal females are grossly overrepresented in the lowest and most dangerous forms of prostitution in Canada.

Significantly, incidents of violence against aboriginal women and girls have a long and ongoing history of being dismissed on the basis of the perceived and/or actual involvement of the aboriginal women and girls involved. Therefore, this report carries significant weight for aboriginal women and girls.

Over the next week, I intend to blog about the release of the final report of Missing Women Inquiry. I will focus my discussions around these two areas: what are the consequences of this report for those in prostitution, and what are the consequences for aboriginal women and girls.

My discussion will also be guided by two interconnected goals:

  1. To dismantle dominant systems of oppression (sexism, racism, colonialism, etc.)

  2. To end violence against women and children.

It is my intent here to offer a social justice perspective on this important moment in Canadian legal history.

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  • Sereena Abotsway

    Born Aug. 20, 1971, Abotsway suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and lived with a foster family most of her life. She was 29 when she was last seen in August 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Georgina Papin

    Born March 11, 1964, Papin had seven children. She was last seen in March 1999. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Mona Wilson

    Born Jan. 13, 1975, Wilson had a son. She was last seen in November 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Marnie Frey

    Born Aug. 30, 1973 in Campbell River, B.C. Her daughter, Brittney, was born five years before she disappeared and gave an impact statement at Pickton's trial. Frey was last seen in August 1997. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Brenda Wolfe

    Born Oct. 20, 1968, Wolfe had a son. She was last seen in February 1999. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Andrea Joesbury

    Born Nov. 6, 1978, in Victoria. Joesbury had a daughter. She was last seen in June 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Cara Ellis

    Known on the street as Nicky Trimble, Ellis was born April 13, 1971 and was last seen in January 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Andrea Borhaven

    Born Jan. 19, 1972 in Armstrong, B.C. Borhaven was reported missing to police on May 18, 1999, but was last seen in 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Kerry Koski

    Born Aug. 14, 1959, Koski had three daughters. She was last seen Jan. 7, 1998. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Wendy Crawford

    Born April 21, 1956, Crawford had a son and a daughter. She was last seen in December 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Debra Jones

    Born in 1957, she was last seen in December 2000. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Tiffany Drew

    Born Jan. 31, 1975, Drew had three children. She was last seen March 2000. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Sarah DeVries

    Born May 12, 1969, to a troubled mother and adopted at 11 months. De Vries' journals and poetry have been widely published since she was last seen April 21, 1998. Her sister, Maggie de Vries, wrote about her sister in the award-winning book Missing Sarah. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Cynthia (Cindy) Feliks

    Born Dec. 12, 1954 in Detroit, Feliks was a mother and grandmother. She was last seen in December 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Angela Jardine

    Born Dec. 12, 1954 in Detroit, Feliks was a mother and grandmother. She was last seen in December 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Diana Melnick

    Born Aug. 26, 1975, Melnick was last seen Dec. 27, 1995. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Jacqueline McDonnell

    Born June 6, 1976, McDonell had a daughter. She was last seen Jan. 16, 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Dianne Rock

    Born Sept. 2, 1967, Rock had five children. She was last seen in October 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Heather Bottomley

    Born Aug. 17, 1976, Bottomley had two children. She was last seen April 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Jennifer Furminger

    Born Oct. 22, 1971, Furminger grew up in St. Catharine's, Ont. She had a son and police say she was last seen in December 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Helen Hallmark

    Born June 24, 1966, Hallmark had a daughter. She was last seen June 15, 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Patricia Johnson

    Born Dec. 2, 1975. Johnson had a son and a daughter, and was last seen March 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Heather Chinnock

    Born Nov. 10, 1970 in Denver, Colo. She had two children. She was last seen April 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Tanya Holyk

    Born Dec. 8. 1975, Holyk had a son. She was last Oct. 29, 1996. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Sherry Irving

    Born March 19, 1973, Irving was last seen in April 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Inga Hall

    Born in 1952 in Germany, Hall had two daughters and two granddaughters. She was last seen in February 1998. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Nancy Clark

    Born July 29, 1966, Clark was last seen Aug. 22, 1991 and reported missing to Victoria police the following day. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Stephanie Lane

    Born May 28, 1976, Lane grew up in Vancouver. She was 20 years old and had recently given birth to her only son when she disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in January of 1997. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but there was never any charge in her case.

  • Dawn Crey

    Born Oct. 26, 1958, Crey was a member of the Sto:lo First Nation near Chilliwack, B.C., and had a son. She was last seen in November of 2000. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Jacqueline Murdock

    Born Jan. 28, 1971, Murdock was the youngest daughter of a large First Nation family in Fort St. James. She had four children. She was last seen on Aug. 13, 1997. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Sharon Abraham

    Last seen in 2000. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Yvonne Boen

    Born Nov. 30, 1967, Boen had a son. She was last seen in March of 2001. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.


 

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