Would represent first nations women, DTES
BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN AUGUST 6, 2011
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is looking to hire four lawyers to represent the interests of first nations women and residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The commission of inquiry came up with the plan after the provincial government refused to provide legal funding for 12 of 13 groups who have been granted standing to participate in the inquiry, which will probe the police failures during the investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.
"In a sense it's a compromise," inquiry spokesman Chris Freimond explained Friday, "to find another way to have all the voices heard."
The commission has the resources to fund these lawyers because some of the investigations that staff undertook didn't take as much time as previously anticipated, so savings have been possible, he said.
The commission alerted lawyers for the participants last week that it intended to hire four lawyers on contract - two to represent first nations women and two to represent the DTES community.
The deadline for applications is Monday.
The commission has the authority to engage outside lawyers to represent these groups under section 7(2) of the Public Inquiry Act.
While the lawyers will be working on behalf of the commission and will be paid by the commission, they will work independently and will not use the commission's offices or resources, Freimond said.
The B.C. government only agreed to fund a lawyer to represent the interests of the families of Robert Pickton's victims. Pickton was the pig farmer who lured women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to his Port Coquitlam farms.
Two DTES groups are already opposing the inquiry commission's proposal.
The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and Feb 14th Women's Memorial March Committee issued a statement Friday saying they strongly objected to the Missing Women Commission's latest proposal.
"The amicus proposal is an attempt to lend legitimacy to a fundamentally flawed process by having a few lawyers who purportedly serve all our interests," the statement said. "To accept this model would mean to take away the voices of the women yet again."
Harsha Walia of the DTES Women's Centre said the proposal is flawed because the new lawyers hired won't represent specific clients and so they won't be able to share police documents with the groups.
The commission said Friday in a statement that it acknowledges that the role of Kim Rossmo is clearly different from that of the other full participants and expects the attorney-general may be prepared to fund counsel for Rossmo.
Rossmo, who now teaches at a university in Texas, is a former Vancouver police officer who specialized in serial crime and wanted the force to issue a warning in the late 1990s that a serial killer might be preying on women. The police force opted not to heed Rossmo's advice.
The inquiry will begin a study commission in nine northern communities, Sept. 12 to 22, between Prince Rupert and Prince George to probe the issue of trying to investigate multiple cases of murdered and missing women. It is believed dozens of women have disappeared over the years along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears.
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