Now that a month has passed since the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report was released to the public, it may be time to reflect on whether there is any point in holding more provincial public inquiries in the future.  From my perspective as counsel for the families of scores of women who were murdered in Port Coquitlam by Robert William Pickton and persons unknown, the MWCI was an abject and profoundly disappointing failure.  I can only hope that, for my clients’ sake, the government quickly implements the recommendations that the families receive financial compensation for the loss of their loved ones so that the healing process can continue.

That said, I still believe that a public inquiry can be an important way to address public concerns arising from any particular scandalous event.  The process has two main purposes; first, to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into what actually happened and, second, to make recommendations to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.  Although the MWCI completely failed on the first front, that doesn’t mean that future inquiries need to founder on the same shoals.  The government must ensure that the tribunal it appoints is completely independent, fully committed to the process and has the necessary time and resources to fulfill its duty to the public.  In the end, like any human endeavour, the success of a public inquiry will depend on the integrity, diligence, commitment and good faith of the participants.

Critics refer to the cost of the undertaking and suggest that the money could be better spent elsewhere.  They have a point, but one can’t put a price tag on truth and justice.  One can, however, impose reasonable spending limits and ensure that taxpayers receive value for their money.

Public inquiries can still work in B.C.  I was one of the lawyers involved in the inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, who died of hypothermia in a Vancouver alley after being dumped there by the police.  Commissioner William Davies, Q.C. presided over the inquiry into the scandal firmly and fairly, with a judicial demeanour acquired over years on the bench of the B.C. Supreme Court.  His Commission Counsel, including Geoff Cowper, Q.C. and Brock Martland, marshalled and presented the relevant evidence and pursued the true facts fearlessly and without favouritism.  They didn’t attempt to delegate their important fact-finding responsibility to other so-called “expert” investigators.  The Frank Paul Inquiry made some important recommendations, one of which, the creation of the Independent Investigations Office, should improve the public perception of police in the province.  The FPI wasn’t perfect – no human endeavour is – but it demonstrates that the public inquiry can serve as a vehicle for exposing the truth and shouldn’t be abandoned just yet.