The B.C. government's refusal to fund community groups at the request of Commissioner Wally Oppal is unprecedented in a Canadian public inquiry, Neve said, in which commissioner requests are usually granted.
Premier Christy Clark explained that the request for increased funding -- $1.5 million -- was declined because of budgetary constraints, saying the government would "rather spend resources on the front line helping women who are still there, instead of more lawyers.”
But Amnesty disputed the lack of available funds. “The public purse has no problem absorbing the massive cost of a battalion of police and lawyers,” Neve said. “When the government has been responsible for the very injustice we're talking about, it needs to put the money into addressing it.”
Asked what its motivations might be, Neve speculated that the government may not want larger systemic problems -- such as institutional racism, poverty and sexism -- addressed, hoping to keep the focus on the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton. The refusal to examine wider issues around discrimination against Indigenous people, he suggested, may in fact amount to a breach of Canada's human rights obligations under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada ratified last year.
"None of our organizations are turning our back on the issues that need to be addressed,” Neve added. “Above all, it's because of the struggle of the women's families that we've made it this far. Sadly, an opportunity to make progress has been wasted.”
Sgt. Sarna acknowledged that he was surprised to be invited into the families' ceremony, particularly considering the protest was directed towards the police, accusing them of failing to protect Indigenous women.
"I was honoured to be included in this ceremony,” he told the Vancouver Observer. “As a representative of the Vancouver Police Department, it was a very important gesture for people to include me.”
"I hope we can have a better understanding of Aboriginal culture and join forces to protect all people.”
Yellow-Quill told the gathering of supporters that traditional ceremony was a place for healing and honouring the memories of missing women.
"In these ceremonies we don't shame blame or criticize,” she said. “We're doing this in a spirit of love.”
But the inclusion of police in the smudging ceremony did not prevent harsher words from being expressed by a number of Indigenous women and allies.
"Upstairs there's a room full of people who are there because these women have fought for an inquiry for 20 years,” said Harsha Walia, with the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, one of the first groups to boycott the inquiry proceedings. “There is no greater crisis across Canada now as missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
"The police are responsible. The Vancouver Police Department blames the RCMP; the RCMP blames the Vancouver Police Department. As far as I'm concerned, it's all their fault.”
The Indigenous woman who conducted the smudging ceremony, Elder Annie, also addressed the gathering.
"I knew so many of these women,” she told the crowd. “They brought joy to my life. There's too many to name -- all we know is they're gone and there's no reason for them to have died.”