Ottawa, ON (September 27, 2011) – The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has called on three United Nations Special Rapporteurs to make an urgent joint appeal to Canada because of the discriminatory denial of funding for representation by legal counsel at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in British Columbia. NWAC has asked for the urgent joint appeal because the Inquiry is scheduled to begin hearings on October 11, 2011 and NWAC is, in effect, excluded from participation.
“Many of the women and girls who have gone missing or were murdered from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and along the Highway of Tears are Aboriginal,” said NWAC President Jeannette Corbiere Lavell.
NWAC is the national voice of Aboriginal women and has been a leader in documenting the disappearances and murders of Aboriginal women and girls across the country. NWAC was granted full standing at the Inquiry by Commissioner Oppal. But the Government of British Columbia has refused to provide funding for NWAC and twelve other groups granted standing at the Inquiry.
“Three levels of government will be represented at the Inquiry, all with publicly-funded counsel” said Lavell. “But NWAC, and other organizations with direct knowledge of the lives and conditions of the disappeared and murdered women, have been denied the equal capacity to participate, cross-examine witnesses, and to bring forward their information and expertise.”
The decision not to fund counsel for parties granted standing is unprecedented in Canada. NWAC and other groups granted standing at this Inquiry are being treated differently from groups granted standing at every other Commission of Inquiry. This is shocking treatment when the subject matter here is extreme violence against women and girls. The effect will be to give the police responses to the violence a diminished level of scrutiny.
Because the Government refused to fund legal counsel for the groups granted standing, the Commission itself on August 11, 2011 appointed two “independent” counsel to represent the interests of Downtown Eastside groups and Aboriginal women. “Unfortunately,” said Lavell, “this does not correct the damage, but instead adds another layer to the discrimination. Aboriginal women are now in the position of having their interests ostensibly represented by counsel who owe them no responsibility, over whom they have no control, and whom they do not instruct. The police, the RCMP, and the Criminal Justice Branch of the Attorney General’s Ministry are not represented by “independent” counsel, but rather by counsel whom they have chosen and can instruct. NWAC has been treated as though it, and the women it represents, are children, neither fully able to have a voice of their own nor meriting an equal voice with the government actors whose conduct is under examination.”
“Without resources to support our participation, we, along with many others, have been shut out of the process”, said NWAC President Corbiere Lavell. “We have called on the UN Special Rapporteurs for help because Canada must recognize its obligations to