The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was dealt another blow to its credibility Mon-day with the withdrawal of the last lawyer who speaks for First Nations.
Virtually all key women’s and community groups had already pulled out of the inquiry after they were denied legal funding to analyze 100,000 pages of documents.
Robyn Gervais, appointed last Aug. 12 as “independent counsel for aboriginal interests,” left the inquiry after commissioner Wally Oppal refused to hear her statement.
Gervais said she will outline 50 contentious points to the com-mission if she is allowed to speak this morning.
But she confirmed she has with-drawn due to “the delay in calling aboriginal witnesses, the failure to provide adequate hearing time for aboriginal panels, the lack of ongoing support from the aboriginal community and the disproportionate focus on police evidence.”
An emotional Gervais said that “as I leave, I regret that I could not find a way to bring the voices of the missing and murdered aboriginal women before the commissioner.”
She noted a disproportionate number of the missing women were aboriginal.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he supports Gervais.
“We worked very hard to get this inquiry, but it has become a travesty, a further injustice to the families of murdered women,” said Phillip.
Also Monday, four retired VPD officers with decades of experience talked about the difficulties of policing in an area dominated by addiction and poverty.
Former VPD constable Dave Dickson, who has worked in the Downtown Eastside for 30 years, began by objecting hotly to statements by lawyer Cameron Ward that police panels at the inquiry can’t help determine why so many women went missing.
Ward, who represents the families of 25 murdered women, told Oppal the VPD panel “will not help you get at the truth.”
Dickson took offence at that remark.
“To say I’m not going to tell the truth because I’m sitting between two police officers, I find that extremely offensive,” he said. “I waited for years to come here, to this inquiry.”
As soon as he started the beat, Dickson said, he realized the “system didn’t work for a large proportion” of Downtown East-side residents.
Former VPD inspector Chris Beach noted that although at times $1 million a day is said to flow into the Downtown East-side to various agencies, “in my 30 years of policing, the Down-town Eastside was awful when I started and awful when I left.”
“Putting more police officers on street corners isn’t going to pre-vent tragedies in the future.”
The officers agreed that addressing drug addiction, mental-health issues and poverty are more important than policing to halt violence against women.