A new report that labels the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI) a failure has been released by three leading BC human rights organizations just weeks before the Commissioner delivers his final report to the Attorney General of BC. The report describes lessons that can be taken from the process that shut out fifteen groups who had been granted standing at the Inquiry, and was picketed for weeks by the very women who it was intended to support.
“We wanted to try to find a positive out of all of the negatives of this Inquiry,” said Darcie Bennett of Pivot Legal Society. “This Inquiry presented an opportunity to hear from marginalized women about their lives, and how to make them safer, and it didn’t. But from that failure we can draw lessons so that future inquiries can restore and build public confidence, instead of repeating what happened here.”
The report, written by legal experts from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and West Coast LEAF, makes a number of recommendations that focus on ways Commissions of inquiry can facilitate the participation of marginalized groups. The report also addresses 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.
“We were dismayed that the very inquiry set up to address the concerns of marginalized women shut those same women out,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Our initial shock gave way to the realization that decisions like these could only have been made in a system that systematically excludes marginalized communities. This step-by-step guide is meant to prevent such an unfair and one-sided process from ever being repeated, by providing the tools to create inclusive and empowering opportunities for vulnerable people to speak and to be heard.“
The MWCI faced criticism from the day it was announced, due to the narrow terms of reference and the appointment of a former Attorney General who had been quoted in media saying there would be little to learn from a public inquiry. The hearings ended amid a firestorm of controversy about excessive salaries paid to junior and senior lawyers, with the most senior Commission lawyers receiving almost half a million dollars each for six month’s work, almost the entire annual budget for the drop in centre for street-based sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“If we had just one recommendation, it would be that it is vital to ask the community demanding the inquiry how the inquiry should be set up, what issues it should address, and then acting on that important advice,” said Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF. “This Inquiry was a missed opportunity to put the voices of marginalized women and communities front and centre.”
Recently, the Commission was granted another extension and will be handing its report to the provincial government on November 30, 2012.