Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prediction: Oppal's comments won't derail Inquiry

Prediction: Oppal's comments won't derail Inquiry: The Commissioner of the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry, Wally Oppal, was thrown under the bus by the Attorney General's office while I was on vacation. Some think it remains to be seen whether or not he and the Commission will survive, but they'll both be fine.

Here's why.

Short version: When Commissioner Oppal called the Attorney General to make his case for publicly funded lawyers for poor aboriginal women facing a phalanx of publicly funded police lawyers, he left a voice mail message. The Attorney General then typed out the voicemail the Commissioner left and sent it to the Commission's lawyers. Later, the Deputy AG sent a copy of the voicemail transcript to lawyers for the police. AG Penner explained that he did this in order to address what he saw as an issue of potential bias.

The team at the AG office forgot to send a copy to lawyers acting for our team (BCCLA, Pivot and Amnesty Canada). I don't think anyone else outside of lawyers for the police or government saw it either. If the media hadn't reported on it, I don't think anyone else would have known about it.

In any event, Commissioner Oppal then issued a mea culpa, saying, of course, that he had not prejudged the case.

Questions of the propriety of the exclusive correspondence between the AG's office and lawyers and police departments and their lawyers aside, here's my prediction (a bit late given that the Vancouver Police Union has already spoken, saying they'll continue to cooperate): The police and the prosecutors and others will not go to court to ask for a new Commissioner, because they couldn't possibly do better.

Does the voice mail message really suggest anything that people don't know? Hardly. Feigned outrage over largely innocuous comments by the Commissioner is a sad PR effort to balance a public record that, to date, shows every card drawn in this inquiry coming up favouring the government and police.

In the front room? Police and government lawyers fully funded.

In the back room? Police officers reviewing documents and making recommendations.

On the bench? A former member of the governing party's cabinet, and a recent Attorney General.

Terms of reference? Restricted to prevent inquiries into the full chronology of Pickton's horrific activities and alleged government and police indifference.

In the North? Restrictions that prevent discussion of the Highway of Tears cases, but northern forums that aim to let off steam on that very issue and hopefully avoid a full inquiry there.

Now why would the police or government work to kill an Inquiry that favours them at every turn, risking its resurrection, bigger, stronger and more in-depth with the first change of government provincially or nationally?

"Get it over and done with" is surely the chorus within police and government offices, all the better that groups that would keep the heat on are pulling out.

For the record, and in the words of the Commissioner:

These are the women who complained to the police about women being missing and were given the back of their hands . . . the police gave them the back of their hands to these women and disregarded what they had to say. So they can't cross‐examine the police, who are of course well‐armed with publicly funded lawyers . . .

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