Tensions at Missing Women's inquiry boil over
B.C.'s missing women's inquiry hearings saw a pointed argument between the lawyer for families of Robert Pickton's murder victims, and beleaguered commissioner Wally Oppal – leaving several of the families enraged and the inquiry increasingly in question.
The heated courtroom exchange came after Ward put forward a list of new witnesses to testify at the inquiry in the new year. Three of the list's most prominent names on the list include Bill Hiscox (a former Pickton employee who offered to help police in 1998, but was turned down), Bill Ritchie (Pickton's lawyer, who pushed the Crown to stay its 1997 charges against Pickton), and a woman referred to by the alias “Jane Smith” (a sex worker who claims Pickton confessed his killings to her in 2000 but who said she was ignored by the police).
Oppal argued that the witnesses would be “repetitious” -- and furnish no new evidence not already revealed in deputy police chief Doug LePard's testimony. LePard takes the witness stand again today, his last day on the stand, after testifying last month that the investigation was hampered by police attitudes in Vancouver's missing-women unit – where officers referred to sex trade workers as “whores” and “hookers” -- but that there was no systemic bias across the Vancouver police.
UN inquiry request shot down
The Oppal-Ward spat came as the United Nations acknowledged receiving a request from Canadian Indigenous groups for an inquiry into the country's missing and murdered Aboriginal women – which the Native Women's Alliance of Canada (NWAC) has listed at nearly 600 women. However, the federal government said today that no UN inquiry will take place.
Since the inquiry started in October, all but one of the community groups and national organizations have pulled out of the hearings in protest over their legitimacy and fairness – particularly the provincial government's refusal to fund legal counsel for the organzations, which include Amnesty International, the Assembly of First Nations and the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre. Only the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network remains in the federal courtroom where the inquiry is unfolding, and their representative expressed frustration with the process.
Asked what the families would like to see at the Missing Women's Inquiry, Frey responded without hesitating:
“I want our lawyers to be treated with respect,” she said.
“I want them to get the cops who were there (involved in the investigation at the time) – I don't care where they've gone – get them there. (We want) the truth of what really happened ...I want to be told exactly what happened and why these women weren't found on the farm.”