B.C. missing women inquiry questions dominate Premier Christy Clark’s first day in legislature

by Yolande Cole, May 30, 2011


B.C.’s Opposition NDP used Premier Christy Clark’s first day in the Legislature to question the leader on the government’s decision not to fund the participation of Downtown Eastside groups in the upcoming missing women inquiry.

Shortly after Clark was sworn in as MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey today (May 30), Clark was on the receiving end of multiple questions from the NDP caucus and leader Adrian Dix, who asked the premier to reverse the funding decision.

“The government has chosen to deny funding to women’s groups, to aboriginal groups, to community groups in the Downtown Eastside at the missing women’s inquiry—this, in spite of the recommendation of Wally Oppal, who has recommended that these groups be heard, that their voices by heard at the inquiry,” said Dix. “Will the premier intervene to overturn this decision and make sure these voices are heard?”

Clark replied that the inquiry is committed to “making sure that we can hear from as many voices as is absolutely possible.”

“Certainly, this government called the inquiry in the first place and appointed Mr. Oppal to head it up because we want to make sure that people’s voices are heard, and we want to make sure that we get to the bottom of some of the problems down on the Downtown Eastside and make sure that when we get to the bottom of those problems, we have a way to move forward,” said Clark.

The question comes after Attorney General Barry Penner announced the government will fund the legal representation for the families of missing and murdered women.

Downtown Eastside organizations are criticizing the decision not to fund their legal counsel in order to participate in the inquiry. Oppal had recommended the province fund the participation of 13 groups, including a coalition formed by the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

Angela Marie MacDougall of the Feb. 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee called Clark’s response to the questions “ill-informed”.

“The premier is really off the mark,” she told the Straight by phone. “We’d like to meet with her to inform her, because I think she needs the information…in terms of the provincial tragedy of murders and disappearances of women from Vancouver.”

MacDougall said the Downtown Eastside groups denied funding represent women who were “profoundly affected” by convicted serial killer Robert Pickton.

“It has been a struggle on every level, and now we’re struggling again… to have women’s voices heard,” she said. “We fought for an inquiry which we have now been excluded from.”

“We’re talking about ground zero where the violence happened, ground zero where the violence continues,” she added.

The NDP used the remainder of question period to ask follow-up questions on the same issue.

“These groups know more about the Downtown Eastside than the premier and her entire government will ever know,” charged Mike Farnworth. “Why doesn’t she give the former attorney general, Wally Oppal, what he’s been asking for: that funding be provided for these 13 groups so that we can get a report that really does accomplish something?

Penner defended the government’s decision, noting the province recently expanded the terms of reference to include a commission of study.

“There is not an unlimited amount of money that can be spent on taxpayers’ fees,” he said in the legislature. “Our government recognizes that, but nevertheless, we are providing the funds necessary so that the families of the murdered and missing women have legal representation at the inquiry.”

The inquiry is expected to begin informal study commission forums in northern B.C. in mid-June.

Today’s Question Period focused on asking the government to fund community organizations’ participation in the Missing Women’s Inquiry.

The draft transcript of today’s Question Period is available at: