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B.C. families of missing, murdered women urge national inquiry to get it right

Carrier Sekani Family Services says there’s no room for mistakes in the newly announced national inquiry.

There’s no room for mistakes in the newly announced national inquiry into murdered and missing women, says a coalition of British Columbia families and support groups.

Mary Teegee, with the Carrier Sekani Family Services, said the federal government’s decision to call the inquiry finally acknowledges there is a problem in Canada.

"By the very virtue that nothing has been done for all these years, that is a mark of racism — that people could overlook thousands of missing and murdered Indian women and it wasn’t a national crisis until just recently," she told a news conference Wednesday in Vancouver.

"This is not an indigenous problem. It’s not a women’s problem. It’s a Canadian problem that we need to work together to deal with and this is a good first step."

Teegee said the new inquiry must go further than a previous inquiry in B.C., led by Wally Oppal, which she said was too narrow in scope and intimidating for families.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which cost about $10 million and concluded in 2012, examined why serial killer Robert Pickton wasn’t caught sooner. It focused on women reported missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002.

Lorelei Williams has had four female members of her family affected by violence dating back to 1978, including a cousin whose DNA was found on Pickton’s farm after she disappeared in 1996. Williams said she has more questions than answers and is not sure if she is ready to embrace the inquiry.

"The families need clear answers. This needs to be treated respectfully and carefully. This national inquiry needs to be done right. We need accountability. There’s no room for mistakes. Our indigenous women and girls’ lives depend on it."

Williams said she’s concerned the inquiry could focus on the systemic issues without fixing them, and urged the government to make a plan for implementing the findings — including more than 700 recommendations already generated from other reports.

Keira Smith−Tague of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter said she is concerned about the absence of any explicit reference to police and the need to highlight the problems and prejudices in Canada’s law enforcement agencies.

"This is not the time to be vague," she said.

Shelagh Day of the Poverty and Human Rights Centre is worried about the inquiry’s ability to delve into areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as child care. That will make the difference in whether this will be a truly national inquiry or just a federal inquiry, she said.

"Canada has to change," Day said. "This is about the accountability of our governments."

The inquiry is scheduled to begin on Sept. 1, is expected to last at least two years and cost at least $53.8 million.

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