Missing Women inquiry adjourned to April 2 to allow appointment of Aboriginal counsel


VANCOUVER - The Missing Women inquiry is going to take a break to replace the lawyer representing aboriginal interests who quit last week.

Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal said today that he has asked commission counsel Art Vertlieb to find a lawyer to represent aboriginal interests and will allow that lawyer two weeks to get up to speed.

The inquiry plans to adjourn until April 2.

This comes after the resignation last week of Robyn Gervais, a Metis lawyer appointed by the commission last August to represent aboriginal interests.

Gervais was appointed after all first nations groups withdrew from the inquiry when the provincial government refused to pay for legal funding -- the government only paid for two lawyers to represent the families of the victims of serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton.

Gervais surprised the inquiry last week when she announced she was withdrawing from the inquiry for a number of reasons, including feeling that not enough aboriginal witnesses had been called.

"Her withdrawal from the proceedings gave me great concern," Oppal told the inquiry today.

He said he wants the inquiry to produce a report to protect the lives of vulnerable women and he wants a lawyer representing aboriginal interests at the proceedings.

Art Vertlieb, counsel for inquiry, told Oppal that he has contacted an experienced, well-respected lawyer to take over the role of representing aboriginal interests.

Oppal will have to appoint the lawyer.

"It's too little too late," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Chiefs, said of Oppal's attempt to carry on the inquiry with a new lawyer to represent aboriginal interests.

He said the inquiry was fatally compromised last year when the government refused to fund lawyers to represent aboriginal organizations and women's groups at the inquiry.

"At that point, the aboriginal voice was relegated to the sidelines," Phillip said.

"It's very late in the inquiry," he added. "Parachuting somebody in at the 11th hour isn't going to change that reality."

Ernie Crey, an aboriginal leader and a family member affected by the Pickton tragedy -- the DNA of Crey's younger sister Dawn, who disappeared in 2000, was found at the Pickton farm but the serial killer was never charged with her murder -- said the inquiry suffered a major blow to its credibility when Gervais withdrew.

"I'm not sure who would be up to the challenge," he said of Oppal's plan to replace Gervais.

Still, he added: "Oppal is capable of producing a good report as far as policing is concerned."

Crey said the aboriginal community will have to wait until the United Nation conducts its inquiry.

Last December, it was announced that a UN committee plans to investigate the allegation that 600 aboriginal women have been murdered or have gone missing over the last 20 years.

Before the UN begins its probe, it first needs the consent of the federal government

The Missing Women inquiry was already planning to take a one-week break next week.

Outside the inquiry, Vertlieb was asked by reporters how the latest delay will affect the inquiry, which began last Oct. 11 and planned to wrap up hearings by the end of April.

He said the inquiry will press on with its mandate.

The inquiry is supposed to submit its report to government by the end of June.

The inquiry is probing why police didn't catch until 2002, despite Vancouver police receiving credible tips in 1998 and 1999 that Pickton may be responsible for the continuing disappearance of prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES).

Pickton once told an undercover officer he killed 49 women.

He now is serving multiple life sentences for six murders he was convicted of in 2007.

After Pickton lost all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial for another 20 murders.

The inquiry completed Monday the cross-examination of four retired Vancouver police officers: former deputy chief Gary Greer, former inspector Ken Beach, former staff-sgt. Doug MacKay-Dunn and former constable Dave Dickson.

Dickson, questioned by Cameron Ward, the lawyer representing 25 families of murdered women, testified that a handful of VPD officers "took advantage" of DTES prostitutes by receiving sexual favours.

Dickson recalled he told an inspector about one officer who "took advantage of four women using the uniform" and the officer was moved out of the area.

He recalled that he was later called in to a meeting with Insp. Al Grandia in internal affairs, who suggested the officer's relationship with prostitutes was no different than if the officer in question had an affair with someone at the courthouse.

Dickson recalled he was disgusted and walked out of the meeting with Grandia.

"You took your concerns to the management level and they were ignored? Is that a fair summary" Ward asked.

"That's a fair summary," Dickson replied.

The inquiry was expected to begin hearing today from another panel of former Vancouver police managers.

But that panel will delayed until a lawyer is appointed to represent aboriginal interests.

When the inquiry resumes April 2, it will hear from a native liaison panel, which will include Freda Ens and Morris Bates of the Native Liaison Society, and a VPD native liaison officer.

Ward raised questions Monday about why hundreds of officers were assigned to investigate the kidnapping of Graham McMynn, who was from a wealthy part of town, but the same resources weren't devoted to the dozens of women who went missing from the DTES.

Greer said the McMynn case had a clear crime and crime scene, whereas the missing women case had no crime scene and no clear evidence of crimes being committed.

MacKay-Dunn suggested the people of the Downtown Eastside are an "underclass" worthy of police attention.

He said too many new officers suffer from "Starsky and Hutch syndrome" - they want to kick down doors and make arrests - and say "We're not social workers" to avoid taking responsibility for those in the DTES.

"We don't spend the time helping these folks get back on their feet and clean up," MacKay-Dunn said.

He reiterated the need for more drug treatment and detox programs in the DTES to get to the root of the problem.




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016