The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will commence evidentiary hearings on October 11, 2011 at the Federal Court offices in downtown Vancouver.  We will be appearing as counsel for the families of 17 missing and murdered women: Dianne Rock, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Cynthia Dawn Feliks, Cara Ellis, Mona Wilson, Helen May Hallmark, Dawn Crey, Angela Hazel Williams, Jacqueline Murdock, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Elsie Sebastian, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Borhaven, Tiffany Drew and Angela Jardine.

Wally Oppal, Q.C., a former Court of Appeal justice and provincial Attorney General, is the Commissioner appointed to preside over the hearings and is tasked with the responsibility of inquiring into the investigations conducted between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002 by police forces in British Columbia respecting women reported missing from Vancouver’s downtown eastside.  He must also inquire into the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch of the Ministry of Attorney General on January 27, 1998 to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault.

Pickton was arrested on February 22, 2002 – more than four years after he became a suspect – and subsequently charged with 26 counts of first degree murder.  He was eventually convicted of six counts of scond degree murder after a lengthy jury trial.  Both the Crown and defence appealed the verdict.  The Court of Appeal conditionally allowed the Crown appeal and dismissed the defence appeal.  Pickton’s lawyers brought a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which was dismissed on July 30, 2010.  On August 4, 2010, at the request of the Crown, the remaining twenty charges were stayed, clearing the way for the public inquiry into the handling of the case that had been requested by victims’ families and police alike.  Former Attorney General Michael de Jong announced the inquiry on September 9, 2010.  The BC Liberal government subsequently refused to fund many participants who had been granted standing, despite Commissioner Oppal’s recommendations, a decision that has attracted widespread criticism and led to boycotts by some groups.

The Ministry of Attorney General has provided our clients with limited funding to enable us to attempt to represent the families’ interests.  Despite the real or apparent limitations of the inquiry process, we hope to aggressively seek the true facts surrounding the manner in which the RCMP and VPD investigations were handled and to champion our clients’ demands for accountability.

The hearings will take place Monday to Thursday every week until December 1, 2011 and resume in January, 2012, provided the provincial government agrees to extend the original deadline of December 31, 2011 for completion of the Commissioner’s report.