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Detail of a poster with photographs of missing women is displayed during the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry public forum in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 19, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)
Detail of a poster with photographs of missing women is displayed during the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry public forum in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 19, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)

Women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside still at risk, street worker says Add to ...

A street worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside said a middle-aged woman who lives in the neighbourhood was picked up a few days ago by four young men and viciously beaten up.

Cori Kelly, who has worked in the neighbourhood for five years, said Tuesday in an interview that the men were definitely from privileged families. They had money, a nice car and nice clothes, she said.

After picking her up, they told the woman several times that they were going to kill her. When the ambulance arrived, the woman was covered in blood, her jaw broken in four places, Ms. Kelly said.

"Those that work down here know that [serial killer Robert]Pickton is just one name of a whole bunch of people who are running around here, doing the same kind of stuff to other women," Ms. Kelly said. "We know how it works."

But those who know the most about the neighbourhood will be at a disadvantage at B.C.'s Missing Women's Inquiry by not having provincial funding for lawyers, she said.

Drawing a comparison to a contested divorce, Ms. Kelly said the process at the inquiry will be like a legal battle between a husband who has a lawyer and a wife who cannot afford legal representation. She said the aboriginal and women's groups, who are aware of the situation, have been invited into the room; but only the RCMP, the Vancouver Police Department, the provincial government and some victims' families will have lawyers.

Earlier Tuesday, Ms. Kelly and several women's and first nations groups urged B.C. Premier Christy Clark to reverse a government decision to refuse funding for participation of several community groups in the inquiry.

Ms. Clark was at the Western Premiers' Conference Tuesday and unavailable for comment. Attorney-General Barry Penner has previously ruled out funding the community and advocacy groups.

The inquiry was appointed to look into circumstances surrounding the police investigation of missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside while serial killer Robert Pickton was on the prowl. Mr. Pickton has been convicted of killing six women from the Downtown Eastside, and police said he may have killed as many as 49. The inquiry is to begin its hearings in October, and report its findings by Dec. 31.

"This denial of resources denies due process and denies the possibility of meaningful participation by the women most affected - particularly aboriginal women living and working in extreme poverty - by the deaths and disappearances of women who were their friends and family," the coalition of community groups said in an open letter to Ms. Clark, released to the media.

"It is vital to this inquiry that the voices of women and the community be front and centre when determining its recommendations," the group stated in the letter. "It is unconscionable that the B.C. government is demonstrating the same dismissive attitude as the very institutions being investigated in this inquiry for the death and disappearance of women."

Inquiry head Wally Oppal has recommended that the groups receive government funding. The coalition includes the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, Wish Drop-In Centre, PACE Society and nine other groups.

Shelagh Day, representing the Women's Equality and Security Coalition, questioned why Ms. Clark was pushing Western premiers to support a national initiative on the missing women across Canada while failing to fund women's groups' participation in B.C.'s Missing Women's Inquiry. "Just what does she think she is doing," Ms. Day said.

Before the premiers' meeting, Ms. Clark told a local Vancouver newspaper that she would like to see support for co-ordinating law enforcement and a missing persons registry.

Mr. Penner said later Ms. Clark's efforts to rally the support of western premiers was "absolutely appropriate."

"B.C. is not the only province where Aboriginal women have disappeared in disproportionate numbers, and any response would necessarily involve the other western provinces," he stated in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Penner also dismissed the request for funding of the community groups.

"Our priority is to fund legal counsel for the families of the murdered and missing women, just as the families of Frank Paul and Robert Dziekanski received funding to participate in those inquiries," he said.

Constable Jana McGuinness, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, stated in an e-mail that details about the woman who was beaten in the Downtown Eastside are not currently available for public release.

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