VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The final report from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has not been released yet, but it’s already being labelled a failure.  Three local civil rights groups have issued their own report with recommendations, hoping future inquiries can restore faith in the justice system.

“If there is one recommendation that we say should be taken from this report, it is the inclusion of marginalized voices,” says Kasari Govender with West Coast LEAF. Along with Pivot Legal Society and BC Civil Liberties Association, she complains that women who were supposed to be heard at the inquiry were instead shut out of the process.

“This inquiry was a missed opportunity to put the voices of marginalized women and communities front and centre,” she adds.

The report and recommendations issued by the groups identify “basic procedural issues that dogged the MWCI, including the lack of full and transparent document disclosure, timely decisions on applications made by lawyers, and issues of conflict of interest.”

Dr. Darcie Bennett with Pivot says if the inquiry had begun with “the simple principals that you must listen closely to those most affected at every stage of the process, and that government must come to an inquiry from a place of learning and willingness to change, this inquiry could have been a very power process with a real capacity to make change.”

“Instead, it’s been rife with issues,” she says.  “It was the government’s decision to deny funding to participant groups who were granted standing.  That got the most attention in terms of problems with this inquiry.  But really the problems began much earlier with the development of the terms of reference.”

Bennett says those terms were set without any community engagement.  “In doing so, they excluded those directly impacted by the issues at the heart of this inquiry, who had worked with the women who had gone missing, who had known them and been calling for the inquiry for years.”  As a result, she says the terms of reference that guided the inquiry were unnecessarily limited.

Lyndsay Lyster with BCCLA says delay is also another major issue that affected the hearings.  “As any lawyer will tell you, justice delayed is justice denied.  Here, more than eight years passed between (Robert) Pickton’s arrest and the announcement of the inquiry.  More than 10 years will have passed before the commission finally releases its report.”

And she points out that the police investigations referenced in the MWCI report began more than 15 years ago. “And that ignores the many years prior to 1997 in which women were being murdered and going missing on the downtown eastside.”

Lyster says inquiries can and should be conducted in a more timely fashion “if the memories of those whose evidence is crucial to the work is to be preserved, transmitted, and ultimately relied upon by the commission.”

As for the highly-publicized issue regarding funding at the inquiry, Lyster says it’s another lesson that must be learned.  The government refused to provide funding to community groups identified by Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal as being crucial to the outcome of the hearings.  “And the Commissioner recognized that funding would be necessary for those community groups to fulfill that role.”

The government did provide funding for 25 lawyers representing government, police, and other groups.  “The government’s decision to do that put the independence of this commission into very grave doubt,” says Lyster, adding that more balanced funding for all groups with a stake in the hearings would have been fair and right.

The groups say they are still holding out hope that Oppal’s recommendations will affect positive change for marginalized women and groups on the downtown eastside and elsewhere, but still want changes made so future inquiries are fully inclusive of the people affected by the issues being addressed.

The report released by LEAF, Pivot, and the BCCLA includes a quote on its cover from MWCI Commissioner Oppal, made during his opening remarks at the Inquiry in October of 2011:

“Few rights are more fundamental than the basic right to be safe from violence and murder.  And yet, in British Columbia, across the country, and around the world, women continue to go missing and be murdered in high numbers… How we examine it and how we address it will speak volumes about the value we place on the equality and human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community; as is often said, the greatness of a society can be measured by how it treats its weakest members.”