Sunday, June 26

Massage parlours safer than street: expert
Updated: Sun. Jun. 26 2011 7:58 PM ET

More than a decade after Robert Pickton was arrested, his murders are being used as evidence in an effort to overturn Canada's prostitution laws – and make running a brothel a legal business.

While more than 100 women were murdered off the streets of Vancouver – 49 claimed by Pickton – not a single woman has been killed in any of the city's numerous massage parlours, according to criminologist John Lowman.

"What you've done with our system of law is create an opportunity structure that allows serial killers to prey on street prostitutes," Lowman said.

"When it's unmonitored, in dark areas, that's where women are most vulnerable."

Ontario's top court is currently considering an appeal of whether anti-prostitution laws violate sex workers' Charter rights and put them in unnecessary danger. A lower court had already ruled the laws unconstitutional.

Currently, running a bawdy house, soliciting a prostitute and living off the avails of prostitution are illegal. But Lowman, who testified at the landmark hearings, argued that cracking down on bawdy houses drives women onto the street.

An upcoming paper of Lowman's cites research showing 71 per cent of street workers reported being threatened, and 51 per cent had been physically assaulted.

By comparison, only 20 per cent of massage workers had been threatened, 17 per cent physically assaulted – and none had been murdered.

A CTV News hidden camera investigation into illicit sexual services at massage parlours revealed clean, secure rooms – an environment apparently much safer than the street.

Some advocates, such as former sex worker Trisha Baptie, say the only way to keep women safe is to crack down on johns and pimps.

Others, like current sex worker Sue Davis, say the solution is to bring prostitution into a legal environment so women can get basic rights and protections -- and do not have to be afraid of cooperating with police.

"If we're going to treat people as disposable and not investigate crimes against a certain caste of people, they're going to go unchecked," Davis said. "People will die."

The five judges overseeing the case in Ontario are expected to take months to come to a decision, which is then likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward

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Wednesday, June 22

Missing women and justice


Attorney General Barry Penner has recognized that inadequate funding was undermining the justice system, delaying trials and allowing people accused of serious offences to go free without a hearing.

He should also recognize that his decision to deny legal funding for participants in the missing women's inquiry is sabotaging its efforts.

Penner has maintained the government couldn't afford to pay enough sheriffs to keep courtrooms open. The public would have to accept the consequences - cancelled hearings, growing waits for justice and increasing numbers of charges dropped because of inordinate delays, he maintained.

This week, in the aftermath of Premier Christy Clark's promise of swift justice for Vancouver rioters, Penner changed course. Cases shouldn't be delayed or dismissed because of underfunding, he said. The government would reverse cuts to the sheriffs' service. (Though it has yet to address a shortage of judges that is also causing delays.)

It's a welcome reversal. Now Penner should do the same on his decision to deny commissioner Wally Oppal's request for funding to allow a dozen groups to participate in the inquiry into missing and murdered women.

Oppal preceded Penner in the attorney general's job. His mandate includes deciding who had a right to participate actively in the inquiry, to question witnesses and examine documents. Oppal ruled that 13 groups had a legitimate interest, including the families of the women killed by Robert Pickton, several aboriginal organizations, a coalition of sex-worker groups and some Downtown Eastside agencies.

Oppal recommended that the government provide legal funding for the groups. Their participation was necessary to fulfil the inquiry's mandate, he said, and they had "satisfied me that they would not be able to participate fully without financial support."

The government agreed only to fund a lawyer for the victims' families. Penner said the government couldn't afford to fund representation for the other groups, even if Oppal considered it necessary.

Police will have taxpayer-funded legal representation. So will municipal and provincial governments and, of course, any politician who is involved with the inquiry. But not the organizations who speak for the victims and the pool of people Pickton preyed upon so freely.

The refusal has derailed the inquiry, Oppal says, forcing him to cancel scheduled meetings in northern B.C. this month. The commission also lacks funding to bring a key witness from the U.S. - former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, whose warnings that a serial killer was at work were ignored.

Penner's refusal to provide adequate funding risks the legitimacy of the inquiry and undermines all the government's pious talk about seeking answers. If police and politicians need lawyers, so do the groups sanctioned by Oppal.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Monday, June 20

Missing Women Inquiry formal hearings set to begin Oct. 11, but funding issue still unresolved


Missing Women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal at a community forum in Vancouvers' Downtown Eastside on Jan. 19, 2011.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG files

VANCOUVER - The formal hearings of the Missing Women Inquiry are set to begin Oct. 11, says a new report issued today by Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

The hearings will take place in the same Federal Court room as the inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being confronted by four Mounties and shot with a Taser five times at Vancouver International Airport.

The Missing Women inquiry had hoped to start its formal hearings in June but the courtroom became unavailable due another inquiry probing the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, Oppal said in his report.

The status report updates what work the inquiry and its staff have completed so far and outlines the work still to be done before hearings begin.

The hearings will probe the police failures to identify sooner serial killer Robert William Pickton as a prime suspect in the disappearances of dozens of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The report says the hearing process will be divided into four parts:

- Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Community, the victims' families and government issues.

- The decision by the Crown to drop charges in 1998 against Pickton - the charges, which included attempted murder, assault with a weapon, aggravated assault and forcible confinement, stemmed from a woman who managed to escape naked from Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm with a handcuff dangling from her wrist; she had been slashed with a knife.

- The actions of the Vancouver police department with respect to missing woman investigations.

- The actions of the RCMP with respect to missing women investigations.

So far, inquiry staff have identified only one potential witness for the Vancouver police and none for the RCMP.

Another seven potential witnesses have been identified to testify for the families of Pickton's victims, the Downtown Eastside community and the government issues within the community where Pickton's victims lived.

The inquiry had planned to begin a study commission this month before the attorney general turned down funding for 12 of 13 groups who requested funding for lawyers to represent them at the inquiry.

Oppal recommended funding for all 13 groups but Attorney General Barry Penner only approved the funding request for the families of Pickton's victims, who will be represented by Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward at the inquiry.

Penner has said the government doesn't have money in its budget to provide funding for lawyers for the other 12 groups.

The issue has delayed the study session part of the inquiry, which was supposed to start this month in northern communities to look at the issue of women continuing to go missing along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears that runs between Prince Rupert and Prince George.

"I am concerned about the effect of the Attorney General's funding decision on the commission," Oppal said in his new status report, which is online at

"Therefore, the commission is considering options to address the concerns that arise due to the attorney general's decision," Oppal said in the report.

Oppal is going to hear further submissions on the funding issue at a pre-conference hearing on June 27 in Vancouver.

A coalition of Downtown Eastside groups will hold a news conference Tuesday to demand the provincial government overturn its decision to deny legal funding to 12 groups who want to fully participate in the Missing Women Inquiry.

The groups have written a joint letter to Premier Christy Clark, stating: "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 groups are calling on Premier Christy Clark to make the inquiry accessible to the public, particularly to women, Downtown Eastside residents, Aboriginal communities and others who have critical information.

"The groups and community have been demanding an inquiry for decades but were consistently ignored and are now being marginalized and shut out again," said a statement issued today by the groups.

Those who signed the letter include:

- February 14th Women's Memorial March Committee and DTES Women's Centre

- WISH Drop In Centre, PACE Society, and DTES Sex Workers United Against Violence

- Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users

- Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Carrier Sekani Tribal Council

- Women's Equality and Security Coalition

- West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund and Ending Violence Association of BC

- Pivot Legal Society and BC Civil Liberties Association

The news conference will take place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, National Aboriginal Day, at Aboriginal Front Door, 384 Main Street in Vancouver.

Despite numerous tips from the public about Pickton being a prime suspect, it took years before he was arrested in February 2002, when a rookie RCMP officer executed a search warrant for illegal guns on Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam.

Minutes after the search began, police discovered the shocking evidence of women who had disappeared over the years from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The search of the property took two years and became the largest forensic investigation in Canadian history.

Pickton was eventually charged with 27 murders, although one charge was later stayed involving an unknown woman, known as Jane Doe, whose partial skull had been found.

The trial judge divided the charges into two separate trials and the Crown elected to proceed to trial first on six charges of first-degree murder. In 2009, Pickton was convicted of six murders and was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years.

After Pickton exhausted all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on the remaining 20 murder charges.

Although Pickton confessed to an undercover officer that he killed 49 women, the official list of missing women contained more than 60 names.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Sunday, June 19

Prostitutes, like everyone else, deserve safety


Canadians should have realized that prostitution in Canada could never be the same after British Columbia pig farmer Robert Pickton was convicted of the horrific killing of six prostitutes and suspected of murdering dozens more.

As details of the shocking case spread across the country, some prostitutes came to believe their only recourse was to fight against a legal system that put them at heightened risk.

In Canada, prostitution itself is legal, but communicating for the purpose of prostitution is illegal, as is conducting business in a brothel and living off the avails of prostitution. Thus many prostitutes are legally constrained to work in frighteningly vulnerable conditions: alone and in a dark corner, away from prying eyes.

One person who was unwilling to ignore the dangers of the sex trade was Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court. Last fall, Himel ruled that current prostitution laws can create dangers that violate prostitutes' right to security of the person under the Charter of Rights. The communicating law forces a prostitute to reach an agreement with a client swiftly, without being able to take stock of the person. Prostitutes cannot turn to the safety of a residence, for fear of being charged with running a bawdy house. Nor can they hire a security guard or a driver, since they could be open to charges of living off the avails of prostitution. As Ontario Court of Appeal Justice David Doherty said Monday, Canada's current laws force prostitutes to "take much greater risks than anybody else."

This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal began hearing a joint federal and provincial appeal of the Himel decision, with the federal government arguing that prostitutes knowingly make an economic choice to enter an inherently unsafe line of work. The government has lined up with the anti-decriminalization school of thought, which holds that any loosening of the laws on prostitution would open the doors to underage prostitution and increased people trafficking, and could also serve to normalize an economic activity that society has no interest in seeing spread.

On the other side of the debate is the argument that nothing is gained by potentially endangering the lives of prostitutes, many of whom, research suggests, have already suffered abuse. Terri-Jean Bedford, 51, one of three sex workers who are challenging the current prostitution laws, recently spoke publicly about having overcome "a lot of personal adversity, abject poverty, uncaring domineering mother, physical abuse, sexual abuse, the group-home system in Canada." Prostitution might well be the "oldest profession," but the histories of too many of its practitioners suggest that they lacked other options in life.

Prostitution is more than a legal issue. It goes to the heart of what kind of society a country wants to have. By this measure, Canada is not doing well. Pickton bragged of having killed 49 prostitutes before he was finally stopped. A 2006 parliamentary study found that 79 prostitutes were killed between 1994 and 2003. Solutions to the complex issues around prostitution won't be easy to find, but that doesn't excuse Parliament from making an honest effort.

What can and should be done is to air the issues surrounding prostitution, carry out an examination of what has worked and what hasn't in other countries, and concentrate on providing a new legal framework that protects prostitutes' personal safety.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, June 16

Missing Women inquiry submissions set for June 27


Missing Women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal at a community forum in Vancouvers' Downtown Eastside on Jan. 19, 2011.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG files

VANCOUVER -- The Missing Women inquiry has set June 27 to hear submissions from groups who want to have legal representation at the inquiry.

The pre-hearing conference was initially set for June 13 but was changed to accommodate all the groups who wanted to make submissions to Commissioner Wally Oppal, the former attorney general who is heading the inquiry.

The conference on Monday June 27 will be held at 1125 Howe Street on the 12th floor.

Participants are asked to limit their oral submissions to 15 minutes each to explain why they need a lawyer to represent their group at the hearing portion of the inquiry, which is expected to begin in September.

The attorney general said earlier that the government cannot afford to provide funding for each group to have a lawyer at the inquiry.

Instead, funding was only provided for the families of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on women living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The inquiry is probing the failures of police to catch Pickton sooner and to treat seriously reports of women who disappeared from Vancouver streets between Jan. 23, 1997 and Feb. 5, 2002, when Pickton was arrested.

It will also investigate why the Crown stayed charges against Pickton in January 1998 for the serious attack on a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker at Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam; the woman managed to escape with a handcuff dangling from her wrist and ran naked into the street, where she flagged down a passing car.

Pickton was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 on six counts of murder. After Pickton exhausted all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial on 20 murder counts.

One murder charge was stayed by the trial judge because it involved an unknown woman known as Jane Doe.

The attorney general earlier got a cabinet order granting Oppal's request to broaden the scope of the inquiry to include a study commission, which plans to probe the issue of the rising number of missing and murdered woman along Highway 16, dubbed the Highway of Tears. The highway runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George and into Alberta.

The study commission was scheduled to start this month but has been delayed until July, with no firm dates set.

The inquiry will move into its second phase -- the hearing commission -- in September. It must report to government by Dec. 31.

The inquiry can make findings of fact, including possible misconduct in the police handling of the missing women reports.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, June 15

Decriminalization could protect sex workers from predators, lawyer argues


Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, centre, talks to the media.

Photograph by: Peter J. Thompson/National Post, xx

TORONTO — A landmark decision that could lead to the decriminalization of Canada's sex trade needs to be upheld to protect prostitutes from being attacked or murdered by serial predators like Robert Pickton, Ontario's highest court heard Wednesday.

In his opening remarks, lawyer Alan Young, who is representing three sex workers in the high-profile case told the five-judge panel that prostitutes leave themselves open to violence from johns, pimps and serial killers because current laws prevent them from taking measures to ensure their safety.

"This is ethically unsound," he told the Ontario Court of Appeal. "No government should be able to jeopardize the safety of its citizens just to send a message."

Pickton is regarded as one of Canada's most prolific serial killers.

The B.C. pig farmer was arrested in 2002 and eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder. In 2007, a jury convicted him of six counts of second-degree murder. He was not tried in the deaths of the other 20 women, many of them prostitutes.

This week, the court has been re-examining a precedent-setting decision last year by Justice Susan Himel that struck down three laws prohibiting activities associated with prostitution — including working or operating brothels, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living off its avails — because they contravene with constitutional rights to liberty and security of the person.

In Canada, prostitution is legal but almost every activity associated with the underground industry is not. A temporary stay has been placed on the ruling coming into effect.

Young said this appeal is not about the constitutional or moral right for women to sell sex services but merely about whether these provisions hinder their right to protect themselves. He implored the panel to rely on "common sense" to support the decision, and to not believe the "smoke screens" about decriminalization like how it would lead to more underage prostitution and drug use because these claims were not based on fact.

Rather, he pointed out, sex workers were among the top three most dangerous professions in Canada. Even more alarming, the number of deaths among prostitutes still outnumber those in the other two groups — taxi drivers and police officers — combined.

Young likened these current laws to how misguided the government would seem if they began imposing strict restrictions on smoking cessation products to deter people from cigarettes. In the sex trade case, women are exposed to physical harm by the conditions while smokers would be susceptible to lung cancer.

Two of the laws which ban brothels and bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution are "archaic" because they have not been revised since enacted as common-law in the early 17th century, said Young. While their original purpose was to deter the "social nuisance" of sex work in neighbourhoods, today, they are broadly interpreted to force women to work in dark alleys and on the streets instead of inside their homes and prevent them from hiring security and drivers for safety.

In 1985, the communication law was hastily updated by Parliament due to immense pressure from communities over street prostitution but was not meant to deter women from working in the industry, as the federal government claimed this week, said Young.

At that time, Parliament missed an opportunity to address the contradictions with these laws and the fact that prostitution is legal.

"The government knew in 1985 they were creating a labyrinth, a maze that is very hard to comprehend," he said.

Now, if it needs guidance, Canada should take note of other international jurisdictions, such as New Zealand, which have had success once they legalized some or all aspects of the sex trade, according to Young.

"Things are getting better. There have been modest gains in these jurisdictions," he said. "Nobody's turning back the clocks and saying they made a mistake. Clearly, the sky did not fall. That is something the Crown has grossly exaggerated."

The appeal continues Thursday with arguments from nearly 20 religious, civil liberties and women's' groups who have been granted intervener status in the controversial case. A decision on the appeal isn't expected for several months.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Friday, June 10

Rene Gunning’s father mourns lost daughter

Remains discovered near Grande Prairie identified as young woman missing since 2005


Rene Gunning disappeared with 16-year-old Krystle Knott from West Edmonton Mall on Feb. 18, 2005.

Photograph by: Supplied,

EDMONTON - Jo Gunning was at work Thursday afternoon when two police officers approached him with the news he had been dreading.

The remains of his daughter — missing for over six years — had been found.

Rene Gunning disappeared Feb. 18, 2005. She was 19 when she was last seen outside West Edmonton Mall with 16-year-old Krystle Knott. The two girls told friends of plans to hitchhike to either Fort St. John or Dawson Creek, B.C.

They were never seen again.

“I’ve been living with this for the last six and a half years, every day, and trying to prepare myself,” Gunning said Thursday night.

“I thought I was prepared for it, but I’m not. The emotions are pretty overwhelming.”

On the May long weekend, a group of campers from Grande Prairie discovered two skulls in a well-known area a half-hour southeast of the city.

Police began days of forensic work at the scene. The skulls were sent to the medical examiner’s office in Edmonton.

Police notified Project Kare, an RCMP-led police team investigating deaths and disappearances of women living high-risk lifestyles. Project Kare had taken on the cases of Gunning and Knott in July 2007 because they regularly hitchhiked. The pair were not believed to be involved in prostitution.

RCMP spokesman Tim Taniguchi confirmed Thursday that one of the skulls was positively identified by the medical examiner as Rene Gunning. The second skull would require more tests before it could be identified, Taniguchi said.

After getting the news, Gunning immediately drove 170 kilometres home to be with family in Fort St. John. Visitors came to his home. They held a smudging ceremony, sang and beat a drum.

He spent the rest of the evening on the phone, listening to friends and family tell him how his daughter had touched their lives.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Gunning. “People were telling me different things, and the biggest thing was that she was a caring, loving person.”

Gunning admits he’s still in shock. It will take days to process what happened before he can work “on the closure part of this.”

There will be a memorial service in Fort St. John, Rene’s hometown. Gunning will also come to Edmonton and walk the grounds of Henrietta Muir Edwards Park, where investigators recently believed his daughter might be buried.

And after the remains are released, the family will plan a summer trip to Rene’s resting place near Grande Prairie to hold a vigil.

In all of this, Gunning wants to celebrate his daughter, “her personality, her vibrancy, the way she handled things.”

Jo saw glimpses of Rene Thursday evening in his seven-year-old grandson D’Andre, who was just over a year old when his mother disappeared. D’Andre has his mom’s eyes, Gunning said, and was hugging distraught family members. It was just like Rene, who knew how to make things better.

Gunning has been looking after D’Andre since his daughter disappeared.

“My daughter gave me this gift. I get a daily reminder of Rene; there’s a piece of her right there with me,” said Gunning. “As D’Andre gets older, I’ll be able to tell him stories to keep her memory alive.”

Gunning and Knott disappeared two months before 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte was lured from West Edmonton Mall, raped and left for dead on a Stony Plain golf course.

Five people were later charged in Courtepatte’s death.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Wednesday, June 8

Missing Women inquiry to discuss AG’s denial of funding for participants


Missing Women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal at a community forum in Vancouvers' Downtown Eastside on Jan. 19, 2011.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG files

VANCOUVER -- The Missing Women inquiry will hold a pre-hearing conference Monday to hear from groups who want to take part in the inquiry but whose request for legal funding has been denied by B.C.'s attorney-general.

The government decided last month that it would only provide funding to lawyer Cameron Ward, who is representing the families of victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal issued a statement Tuesday saying he has instructed Art Vertlieb, the lawyer acting for the inquiry, to consider how the provincial government's funding decision will affect those wishing to take part in the inquiry.

"As a result of his discussions, Mr. Vertlieb has advised me to hold a pre-hearing conference to give all participants an opportunity to make submissions directly to me about how the funding decision by the government affects their clients' involvement in the hearing portion of the inquiry and the operation of the commission," Oppal said.

The pre-hearing conference is set for 9:30 a.m. on Monday on the 12th floor of 1125 Howe St.

Attorney General Barry Penner said Tuesday that there was no money in the budget to provide taxpayer funding for groups that wanted to hire lawyers to participate in the public inquiry.

"There is no legal right that groups have for legal funding for public inquiries," he added, pointing out that the government only provided funding for Robert Dziekanski's mother at the public inquiry into the death of the Polish man at Vancouver's airport in 2007.

The attorney general said the Missing Women inquiry has seven lawyers and 17 staff, who should be able to assist those who want to participate in the inquiry.

Penner said he earlier got a cabinet order granting the broadening of the scope of the Missing Women inquiry to include a study commission, which plans to probe the issue of the rising number of missing and murdered woman along Highway 16, called the Highway of Tears, which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George and into Alberta.

That phase of the inquiry was scheduled to begin in Vanderhoof on Monday but has been delayed by the government denial of legal funding to some participants.

The study commission now is expected to begin next month.

The inquiry's initial terms of reference last September only included a hearing commission, a formal hearing with lawyers allowed to cross-examine witnesses who will testify about events before the arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on woman living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The study commission is expected to spend two weeks hearing submissions from people living in four or five cities along Highway 16.

The inquiry will move into its second phase — the hearing commission — in September.

The inquiry can make findings of fact, including possible misconduct in the police handling of reports of the women who disappeared from Vancouver streets between Jan. 23, 1997 until Pickton was arrested on Feb. 5, 2002.

The hearing commission will also review the January 1998 decision by the criminal justice branch of the attorney-general's ministry to stay charges against Pickton for the assault of a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker.

Pickton was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder. The Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial on the murders of another 20 women.

One of the charges was stayed by the trial judge because it involved an unknown woman known as Jane Doe.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Lawyers’ feeding frenzy has missing women inquiry costs ballooning


Michael Smyth

Photograph by: Ginger Sedlarova, The Province

When the B.C. government announced a public inquiry into the Willy Pickton serial killings, they estimated it would cost between $3- and $5 million.

But according to the ministry of the attorney-general, the inquiry has already cost taxpayers $1.3 million — and the formal hearings have not even started.

The money has gone to ramping up the sprawling inquiry into how police and the Crown handled the investigation of the missing-women case, which ended with the arrest and conviction of Pickton on multiple murder charges.

The inquiry is headed by former attorney-general Wally Oppal, who commands a staff of 17 people, including six lawyers.

Keep in mind those six lawyers are only working for the commission itself. There will be many more lawyers charging billable hours at the inquiry.

According to a cabinet order dated last September, Oppal himself is being paid $1,500 a day. He has granted “standing” at the inquiry to 25 groups and individuals, along with the families of eight of Pickton’s victims.

Some have been granted “full participant” status, while others are “limited participants.” Some have been grouped together as co-participants.

The lawyers for full participants can cross-examine witnesses, make submissions and access all documents. Limited participants can access documents and make final submissions, but can also apply to Oppal to cross-examine witnesses.

Some of the groups are paying for their own lawyers, such as the government of Canada and the Vancouver Police Department. Of course, that is public money that will be counted separately from the commission costs.

But Oppal is calling on the government to pay for the lawyers for many other groups with standing at the inquiry, including: Amnesty International, the Coalition of Sex Worker-Serving Organizations, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Walk4Justice, B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Assembly of First Nations and many others.

The government is resisting paying for all these lawyers, fearing the budget for the inquiry will go off the rails, and Oppal will not meet his reporting deadline.

The inquiry was supposed to wrap up by the end of this year. But no testimony has been heard yet, and Oppal has already called a special hearing into the government’s decision not to fund all the intervener groups.

There’s a reason governments often hesitate to call public inquiries — they turn into feeding frenzies for lawyers, last longer than expected and cost taxpayers a fortune.

Still, the government felt the alleged mishandling of the Pickton case warranted an inquiry.

But as costs rise, and the billable hours pile up, you have to wonder if some of that money wouldn’t be better spent on protecting vulnerable women, instead of being spent on platoons of lawyers.

You can forget about $3 million.

Watch for the budget for this inquiry to explode.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Friday, June 3

Jody Paterson: Voices of sex workers are silenced again


Columnist Jody Paterson.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

So we've got an inquiry into a B.C. mass murder headed up by a man tainted by his political connections, presiding over a process that shuts out almost everyone on the side of the victims.

Yup, that sounds like a solid way to get at the truth about the Robert Pickton case.

Only sex workers could draw straws this short. Then again, only sex workers would be left to go missing and murdered on our streets for so long in the first place. It's baffling and heartbreaking, this misery we sustain in the name of "morality."

Should we be surprised, then, that the B.C. government has refused to cover legal costs for groups representing the interests of sex workers at the upcoming Robert Pickton inquiry?

It's a more blatant rejection than I'd have expected from a new premier, sure.

But isolated howls of protest aside, the government likely knows it's politically safe to stick it to groups acting in the interests of sex workers.

More than a decade of dead and missing women in the Downtown Eastside wasn't enough to get British Columbians riled enough to change one damn thing for sex workers. Why would they rise up now over a lack of money for legal representation?

The government's denial of support is reprehensible, but you can't argue with its political instincts. It's got the public's number on this one.

Lawyers collected $21 million after Pickton's trial. RCMP rang up $84 million on the investigation. We'll spend many millions more to revisit all of that during the inquiry that former attorney general Wally Oppal will be presiding over.

How far might money like that have gone if used instead to improve the lives of the troubled women Pickton preyed on? It turns my stomach to think of all the desperate women and their children who came looking for help in my three years at PEERS Victoria, and how little was available.

I was in the last year of that nonprofit job when Pickton went on trial. As I've noted in past rants on this subject, media called me from across the country that spring and summer to ask what I thought would change for outdoor sex workers now that "justice" was being done.

What can possibly change when the only time a sex worker gets any consideration is as a dead body?

Women were going missing for a long, long time from the Downtown Eastside before Pickton was ever brought to trial. If British Columbians had wanted to do right by outdoor sex workers, we would have taken preventive steps well before Pickton was even a suspect, and certainly in the years following his conviction. But we didn't.

I hope Pickton's victims are out there right now in some version of an afterlife, having a good, rueful laugh about all of this.

They were universally shafted in life, that's for sure. But I think they'd see the black humour in the small fortune we've lavished on them in death. Do the math on the $102 million in legal and police costs for the Pickton proceedings and it turns out we've spent almost $4 million for each of the 26 women Pickton was charged with killing.

All that for women we didn't have the time of day for back when they were alive. Women who struggled to find housing, support, addiction treatment or even an ounce of public sympathy when they were still walking the stroll.

And the kicker: None of that money altered one thing for the future victims of a future Pickton. It didn't change the law, or make a bit of difference in the lives of the vulnerable, impoverished women still working the grim outdoor strolls in our communities.

Families of Pickton's victims understandably want an inquiry. And they'll have it starting in September, albeit under the direction of a man who presided with indifference over the plight of outdoor sex workers in the years when he was attorney general.

The families will be able to share a lawyer at the government's expense during the inquiry. At least that ensures the voices of the dead are represented.

But the denial of legal aid to the sex workers' coalitions and community advocacy groups silences the voices of the living. Those groups have now withdrawn from the inquiry in protest. Once again, only the dead will be heard.

All that's left to feel is shame.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Wednesday, June 1

Libs favour the powerful in Pickton inquiry


Christy Clark faced a serious issue in her first question period as premier.

Her response was empty. Attorney General Barry Penner was a more capable government spokesman.

The issue is the missing and murdered women's inquiry.

Commissioner Wally Oppal, a former Liberal attorney general, had to decide who had a right to participate in the inquiry - to question witnesses and play an active role.

Oppal ruled 13 groups had a legitimate interest. They included families of the women killed by Robert Pickton, a coalition of sex-worker groups, several aboriginal organizations and some agencies who worked with the Downtown Eastside people who were Pickton's prey.

And he said that to play their proper role, they would need public funding to help with legal costs.

The government rejected Oppal's recommendation. The families of the missing women would get funding for a shared lawyer. No one else would get public money.

Except, of course, police. They will have a battery of publicly funded lawyers to look after their interests when the botched investigation is examined. Crown prosecutors will have taxpayer-funded lawyers. So will the government and any politicians who might be called as witnesses or even referred to during the inquiry.

But the organizations supporting prostitutes, whose concerns about missing women were ignored, they're shut out. First Nations who want to ask questions to see if racism played in the role in the lack of urgency when women began disappearing, they're on their own.

Oppal said he had only recommended funding for those who had a role to play in getting answers and had "satisfied me that they would not be able to participate fully without financial support."

The government decided to exclude those groups from full participation. Police and politicians would have a battalion of lawyers to protect their interests. Natives, poor women, the disadvantaged - they would have no one.

And it made the decision despite having provided funding for groups with standing at the inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, who died after being left in an alley by Vancouver police.

The NDP basically repeated a single question - would Clark and the government accept Oppal's judgment and fund some legal costs for all parties that should be part of the inquiry.

Clark expressed sympathy. She did a bizarre little riff about families first and the HST rate reduction and B.C. Ferries fares and ICBC, although what that had to do with murdered women was unclear.

But she never addressed the questions or Oppal's recommendations or the issue.

MLA Carole James noted the inquiry would not have been called without the efforts of some of the groups.

Clark responded that "the government said at the time that they would support an inquiry when the legal proceedings were complete. The government kept their promise."

That's not true. The Liberal government consistently refused to commit to an inquiry even when police called for one.

And Clark maintained the groups could participate even if they didn't have lawyers to represent them at the inquiry. Oppal disagrees.

And if Clark is serious, she could prove it by announcing no public funds will be spent on lawyers for politicians, police and prosecutors. But she won't.

Penner at least addressed the issue. It would cost too much to pay for the legal representation. There were parts of the inquiry where people who didn't have lawyers could be heard.

But he also failed to address the fact that insiders - police and prosecutors and politicians past and present - have unlimited public funding for legal representation.

The outsiders get nothing. Inquiries do become costly as legal fees mount. But why not impose limits on all involved, while providing equitable funding?

Instead, the government decided that the powerful would have all the funding needed to protect their interests at the inquiry. The powerless could watch from the spectators' gallery.

And Clark never really defended the decision, or even showed that she understood its significance.

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