missing women’s inquiry

Missing Women’s Report Release Pokes at Unhealed Wounds

Cover of yesterday's report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

Cover of yesterday’s report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

by Jarrah Hodge

Yesterday’s release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report was an emotional event that did little to guarantee justice for victims.

I haven’t yet been able to do an in-depth reading of the over 1400-page report produced by Commissioner Wally Oppal after over a year of hearings and deliberations, but I can talk about the problems with the process and about what I saw watching the livestream of Oppal’s news conference.

Over the hour, Oppal was interrupted over and over by victims’ families and Indigenous women, shouting down his claim that everyone had had their voice heard during the inquiry, and at one point breaking into a “Women’s Warrior” song and drumming. It was a powerful moment to see Oppal be silenced, even briefly, by the women who had been silenced during this whole process.

In the Spring of this year, several community and advocacy organizations joined in a coalition to boycott the inquiry, calling it a “deeply flawed and illegitimate process” after funding was denied to the 13 groups granted any standing in the inquiry. The groups spoke out over and over again on other major issues with the Inquiry, including the failure to provide lawyers for community groups when lawyers were provided to protect police and government interests, arbitrary timelines, delayed and incomplete disclosure, unwillingness to give enough time to Aboriginal witnesses, marginalization of vulnerable witnesses and lack of witness protection for them. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics, Racism Leave a comment

Gender Focus Panel: Bedford Decision on Prostitution

Gavel and justice scalesEarlier this week the Ontario Court of Appeal handed down a decision in the Bedford case, which deals with the laws surrounding sex work.

From the CBC:

The court released a decision Monday on an appeal of Superior Court Judge Susan G. Himel’s high-profile ruling that three provisions of the Criminal Code pertaining to prostitution should be struck down on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.

The Ontario appeal court agreed with two-thirds of Himel’s ruling, namely that the provisions prohibiting common bawdy-houses and living off the avails of prostitution, are both unconstitutional in their current form.

But the court disagreed that the communicating provision must be struck down, meaning that it “remains in full force” and the existing ban on soliciting will continue.


The court also said that the prohibition of living off the avails of prostitution – as spelled out in Section 212(1)(j) of the Criminal Code – should pertain only to those who do so “in circumstances of exploitation,” and will be amended to reflect that. The changes to the “living-off-the-avails” provision will not come into effect for 30 days.

After the jump we’ll go to responses from Gender Focus contributors, but first here were some responses from other media and feminist organizations (only excerpts: click on links to read their entire reactions):

From WAVAW’s Media Release:

“Once again the legal system is missing the mark on prostitution. Women will continue to go missing and be murdered, if there is no real work being done to aid women. Social programming and funding into women’s services are what is needed. Hiding women from plain sight to create a false sense of safety in community is not the answer. The women who are engaging in sex work are not the individuals creating the violence; it is the men who seek to exploit women’s bodies. Those men come from the very neighborhoods that these judges say they wish to create safety in; they plan on doing this by eliminating the undesirable social consequences of sex work. The undesirable consequences are that men are able to exploit marginalized, at-risk women in Canada” says Darla Goodwin, WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre Coordinator of Aboriginal Women’s Services.

From Pivot Legal Society via Rabble.ca:

“I am very concerned about the continued criminalization of women working on the street. These are the women who face the most charges, face the most violence and have the fewest options” says Pivot Board Member Kerry Porth. “But I am glad to see that the Court recognized that these laws were not put in place to prevent prostitution and that the current legislative scheme does not reflect the values of dignity and equality for sex workers.”

From Laura Johnston at The F Word Feminist Media Collective:

The other strange part about this conclusion is that the Court acknowledged that the evidence demonstrated that women prostituted on the street do not move indoors, even if it’s legal. The record from other countries that legalized brothels showed that there was no movement from the street to brothels following decriminalization. There are many reasons for this. An obvious one is that brothels won’t let women in who struggle with mental illness, addiction, or have other health problems. Another is that many women prefer prostituting on the street because they have more control than in a brothel where the manager negotiates with johns on their behalf.

Now here’s what Gender Focus contributors had to say: Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

Missing Women Inquiry’s Fatal Funding Flaw

From its inception, the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry had its problems. The first concern raised by Aboriginal women’s groups and groups working with sex workers was the choice of Wally Oppal, former Liberal Attorney General, as the inquiry’s commissioner, given his political ties to some of the key witnesses. There was also controversy about the limited terms of reference, which specified the inquiry was only to focus on events from 1997 to Pickton’s arrest in 2002.

But even if you thought Oppal could be impartial as a commissioner or you’ve been convinced since he took the job, it’s become clear that the inquiry has no chance at reaching any legitimate and useful conclusions until the government agrees to fund the 13 groups granted standing in the inquiry. The groups Oppal’s advocated for to receive funding includemany small, local groups who work with at-risk women and understand the problems with how the Pickton case and other investigations were handled.

Last month BC Liberal Attorney General Barry Penner decided Oppal had no authority to recommend funding for these groups, which has meant many have been forced to withdraw. Ian Mulgrew reported in the Vancouver Sun that it would take approximately $1.5 million to finance the groups, a relatively small amount compared to the overall cost of the case. The list of those who’ve withdrawn now includes WISH, a DTES drop-in centre for sex workers; the Union of BC Indian Chiefs; the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association; and most recently the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Other groups have also indicated they will be unable to participate in the inquiry in the longer term.

Penner is also refusing funding for counsel for Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver police officer whose warnings of a serial killer were ignored by the department. He may not appear.

The inquiry is becoming nothing more than the Liberal government’s latest dog and pony show, though whether Barry Penner is the dog or the pony is anyone’s guess.

Last week the BC NDP called on the government to fix the funding issues: “These workers are on the front lines and have first-hand knowledge of how things can be improved for aboriginal women at-risk; however, without counsel, they’re unable to provide a submission to the inquiry,” said NDP Attorney General Critic Leonard Krog.

But the Native Women’s Association of Canada is taking it a step further, arguing that real change will require a national inquiry: “NWAC was initially concerned about the limited scope of the BC Commission of Inquiry, but chose to participate to bring forward the knowledge and expertise developed through the Sisters In Spirit initiative. NWAC is now calling for a National Inquiry to focus on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada,” read NWAC’s recent statement.

In the long run, I hope we do see a national inquiry, as proposed by NWAC. The issues leading to violence against Aboriginal women and to the lack of police interest in the cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women go beyond the limits of the Downtown Eastside and beyond the years 1997-2002. They include systemic racism and sexism, cuts to Aboriginal services at the federal and provincial levels, federal prostitution law that puts sex workers at greater risk, and the complicated legacy of colonialism.

But at a bare minimum Christy Clark and Barry Penner need to restore legitimacy to the provincial inquiry by funding the 13 groups identified by Oppal. It’s unjust to the murdered and missing Aboriginal girls the inquiry’s supposed to represent to only fund lawyers for the victims’ families and government and police participants who will be defending their conduct during the Pickton investigation. If we want the most legitimate results for the inquiry, we need to have these experienced grassroots groups funded to provide their perspectives.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment