Groups boycotting the Pickton inquiry have rebuffed commissioner Wally Oppal’s plea to set aside their criticisms and take part in the commission’s final few months.
In an open letter to Mr. Oppal, signed and released Tuesday by 15 aboriginal organizations and other advocacy groups, the inquiry was labelled “a deeply flawed and illegitimate process” that has no credibility among those involved in the sex trade, those working with troubled women, aboriginal representatives and human rights advocates.
The groups have complained from the start of the process that they were denied legal funding, and that the inquiry is focused too much on police handling of the investigation into scores of women who went missing on the Downtown Eastside, without looking into the root causes of why so many vulnerable victims were murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton, before he was caught.
Earlier this month, Mr. Oppal called on his critics to assist him in drafting his eventual report, due by the end of June.
“We cannot let the Willie Picktons of the world triumph because we get caught up on how things should be and aren’t,” he said at the time. “The door is always open to any group or person that would like to reconsider their decisions.”
Among the groups reiterating their support for a boycott were the province’s most prominent aboriginal organizations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“The inquiry has been a total, complete, miserable failure,” said UBCIC president Stewart Phillip. “Wally Oppal is beating a dead horse.” Grand Chief Phillip said the inquiry essentially died when the provincial government denied funding to advocacy groups: “To expect the signers of this letter to sit in the inquiry room and gawk is completely unacceptable.”
The inquiry was due to hear later Tuesday from a crown prosecutor involved in the decision not to prosecute Mr. Pickton for attempted murder over an incident at his pig farm in 1997. A woman, who cannot be identified, wound up in hospital with life-threatening stab wounds she said were inflicted by Mr. Pickton, who was also stabbed.
The groups behind the letter pointed out that the inquiry is filled with publicly funded lawyers representing police agencies and individual officers.
The province's attorney-general has repeatedly defended the decision not to fund the groups, arguing that only the families of Mr. Pickton's victims should receive government money, which they have.
As a compromise, Mr. Oppal appointed independent lawyers to represent the interests of aboriginals and Downtown Eastside residents, including sex workers.
The lawyer appointed to represent aboriginals quit in protest last month, telling Mr. Oppal that the inquiry wasn't listening to the voices of First Nations women who overwhelmingly accounted for Mr. Pickton's victims. The inquiry was put on hold for three weeks while a replacement was found.
The hearings are expected to wrap up testimony in May, followed by the less-formal study commission. Mr. Oppal's final report is due June 30.
Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002 and later convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found in his farm in Port Coquitlam. He once bragged to an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women.
With a report from The Canadian Press