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Activist Communique: Rally on first day of sham missing women's inquiry

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Rally on first day of sham missing women's inquiry

The Deets:
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
701 West Georgia

The call-out:

Monday October 3, Vancouver Coast Salish Territories -- calling the Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry a "disgrace" and an "insult to women in the Downtown Eastside," the Coalition of the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre (DEWC) and Feb 14th Women's Memorial March Committee (WMMC) have announced today that they will not be endorsing or participating in the inquiry.

The Coalition is also announcing a rally at the beginning of the hearings on October 11th, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. in front of at 701 West Georgia. They will be denouncing the Sham Inquiry and will call for a new fair, just, and inclusive inquiry that centres the voices and experiences and leadership of women, particularly Indigenous women, in the DTES.

"This inquiry has a responsibility to highlight those systemic injustices that allowed the unimaginable deaths and disappearances of so many women from the Downtown Eastside. We have been raising awareness on this issue for over twenty years and demanding an inquiry for decades, but this Sham Inquiry is flawed and unjust. We cannot endorse it," states Carol Martin, victim services worker at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.

The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre made the decision to no longer participate in the Sham Inquiry following discussion and votes by its members who are residents of the DTES. "We are sick of this. This Inquiry was supposed to be about a measure of justice for us and the hope that things would change down here, but it is just more of the same injustices," says Beatrice Starr, who has resided in the Downtown Eastside for 30 years and whose sister and niece were both murdered.

Diane Wood, a member of the Women's Memorial March Committee says: "We have essentially been shut out from this Sham Inquiry that is actually supposed to be about us and our experiences. It is vital to this Inquiry that the voices of women and the community be front and centre when determining its recommendations. Without a commitment to the participation of women from the Downtown Eastside, the inquiry is not legitimate and has no credibility."

According to Lisa Yellow-Quill of the Women's Memorial March Commitee "We were witness to the system's gross negligence as well as racism and sexism in investigating these disappearances and murders. It is unconscionable that Christy Clark, Barry Penner, Shirley Bond and the B.C. government are demonstrating those same dismissive and discriminatory attitudes today. We want and continue to be committed to a just inquiry, not a sham inquiry."

States Harsha Walia of the Downtown Eastside Womens' Centre "It is disgusting that the Vancouver Police Department and the Government of Canada -- who are the ones on trial here -- will have an army of publically-funded lawyers to defend themselves. Women in the DTES have their own voices and critical information to share, but this Sham Inquiry has shut those voices out and maintained the status-quo of inequality. This is representative of the very legacy of discrimination, racism, sexism, and colonialism that this Inquiry is supposed to interrogate. We have no faith that anyone or any institution will be held responsible for the deaths and disappearances of women from the DTES."

REASONS FOR NON-PARTICIPATION:

The DEWC and WMMC were granted full standing to participate in the evidentiary hearings. In a letter to the Commission, they list the following reasons for their recent decision to not participate in the Sham Inquiry:

- The Commission has created an adversarial structure, which forces women in the Downtown Eastside to rely on lawyers to defend them from rigorous cross examination. This is also highly objectionable as it revictimizes and traumatizes survivors of violence in an inquiry that provides no support or protection for them.

- Despite creating an inaccessible and cumbersome process that requires lawyers, the B.C. government has unjustly decided to not grant the resources necessary for legal counsel or support services to ensure that women in the DTES can meaningfully participate in the Missing Women's Inquiry. As written in a letter from legal experts in Ontario, "The refusal of the Attorney General to fund parties to the Inquiry will result in an unfair and discriminatory hearing process." Letter in full available here.

- There is a total disregard for vulnerable witnesses. An application for procedural protection of vulnerable witnesses, including the opportunity to testify through anonymous affidavits, has been opposed by the VPD. Without anonymity and confidentiality, witnesses will face real or perceived reprisals from the police.

- The police -- the VPD, RCMP, and the Police Union -- are over-protected in this inquiry. The police are armed with well-paid legal teams, embedded police experts from the Peel Division are reviewing legal documents which we have not even seen, and individual police officers are being granted standing in this Inquiry.

- The Commission has not been transparent or fair in its handling of the inquiry. We object to a series of decisions including the retention of Peel Police as experts to review legal documents, the terms of the disclosure agreement between the Commission and the police, and the withholding of witnesses lists.

- We are boycotting the amicus proposal because it shows an utter lack of respect for the multi-dimensional experiences of those women who are directly impacted in the DTES by suggesting that one or two lawyers will "represent" all of us. Letter in full available here.

- The Study commission is not a replacement for full and meaningful participation in the Inquiry. The Study Commission is not an evidentiary hearing; therefore we will not be able to review evidence and cross examine witnesses. At best, the Study Commission will produce yet another report about systemic injustice in the DTES without anyone being held responsible and with no systemic change. Without participation in the evidentiary hearings of the Inquiry, the Study Commission is toothless and we do not endorse it.

The DEWC, established in 1978, exists to support and empower women and children living in extreme poverty in the DTES of Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. The Centre is unique, in that it is one of the only safe spaces within the Downtown Eastside specifically and exclusively for women and their children. It provides practical support to over 300 women and children on a daily basis.

The DEWC are also committed to long term systemic change of the realities of poverty, racism, colonization, violence against women, addictions, disability, child apprehension, policing, and more which marks the lives of the women who access our space and services. Many of the women who have gone missing, have been murdered, or are survivors of violence in the DTES have been members of the DEWC.

The February 14th Women's Memorial March Committee was founded in 1992 when a woman was found murdered on Powell Street. Since then, over the past 20 years, the Committee has organized for justice for missing and murdered women and raised local, national, and international attention on the issue.

An annual march on February 14th is led by women in the DTES because women, especially Indigenous women, face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis. Increasing deaths of many vulnerable women from the DTES still leaves family, friends, loved ones, and community members with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. Every year the list of women going missing also increases and we are committed to justice.

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