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Missing women: BC rejects extension call from Pickton victim families, NDP

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The next setback was when the BC government turned down requests to fund the participation of groups connected to the missing and murdered women – including Downtown Eastside agencies, human rights and Indigenous organizations, and sex worker advocacy groups.

This led to the inquiry – which resulted from years of community pressure – being boycotted by almost every participating organization, including Amnesty International, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.

Earlier this month, another hitch: Robyn Gervais, the lawyer representing Aboriginal interests, resigned amidst accusations her witness requests were rejected and Indigenous voices ignored. Her withdrawal caused the last remaining First Nations group involved to boycott the hearings.

All of this, say families of the missing and murdered women, has been “devastating.”

“My sister Dianne was the second-to-last that was murdered under the nose of the (VPD Missing Women's) Task Force,” Beaudoin told the Vancouver Observer. “I really needed to get some answers about how this was able to go on . . . how these things can happen right under the watch of the police.”

“They've pulled the carpet out from under us,” interjects Ellis.

Changing attitudes toward sex workers

One of the few positive sides, said lawyer Neil Chantler – who with Cameron Ward represents 25 victim families – has been the chance for his clients to tell their stories. The inquiry has heard of police brushing off missing person reports, using racist and sexist language, and having sex with the very women they were supposed to protect. Public outcry over the Pickton murders, however, has led to Vancouver police announcing a new set of guidelines to make the safety of sex workers a priority and to treat them with "dignity and respect". 

“Families of some of the missing and murdered women have been given an opportunity to tell their stories,” said Neil Chantler. “They fought for years for this Inquiry.

“In the face of the April 30 deadline, cross-examination time has been restricted, witnesses have not been called, and disclosure has not been ordered. The Commission has made great efforts to meet the deadline, but it has proven to be an impossible task.”

The government has, time and time again, been firm on its deadline, citing the need to move forward. Oppal's mandate is to determine what exactly went wrong with the Pickton investigation, and to suggest changes needed to prevent such problems in the future.

For some families, however, the inquiry is about more than the police. It's about how people treat society's most vulnerable women – the drug-addicted sex workers of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, whom Pickton targeted for at least a decade with impunity.

“The inquiry has a chance to change minds and make people look at things differently,” Ellis told the Vancouver Observer. “Unless we really dig deeper for answers . . . people are going to continue to look at the girls (in the sex trade) as if they're disposable or invisible.

“I want to know as much truth as I possibly could about what happened to Cara and to the other girls – and what went wrong in society. That's one of the things that can't get lost in all of this: there's human beings behind this story, the victims themselves.”

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