Indigenous

'Vast country' makes MMIW inquiry timeline a challenge, says former head of Pickton inquiry

The commissioner of a B.C. inquiry into missing women says he’s worried that the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women set to get underway later this week will suffer from a lack of time.

National inquiry to be led by 5 highly qualified commissioners but following timetable will be tricky: Oppal

Wally Oppal says the public is now more aware of the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women than in 2010, when he conducted an inquiry in B.C. (CBC)

The commissioner of a B.C. inquiry into missing women says he's worried that the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women set to get underway later this week will suffer from a lack of time.

"It's a vast country," said Wally Oppal. "I don't think they're going to get this done within two years, because there's so much material, and so many people will want to talk to them."

The federal government's MMIW inquiry is the first of its type done at a nation, even though a similar one was conducted by Oppal, commissioner of the 2010 provincial inquiry that examined the investigation and events leading up to the conviction of serial killer Robert Pickton.

While Oppal says the current national inquiry is led by five highly qualified commissioners, he worries that they'll find it challenging to keep everything on track.

Originally, the Oppal inquiry was expected to be completed in 15 months, but an extension of 11 months was granted.

The current inquiry, he says, is far too large to complete in the two-year timeframe earmarked by the government.

The five commissioners will also likely struggle with emotional challenges.

Public 'finally aware'

Despite serving as a special prosecutor on over 50 murder cases, Oppal says nothing prepared him for the inquiry.

"This was the most difficult thing because I was listening to the women that came before us to talk about what happened to them — the trauma," said Oppal. "It's going to be difficult for them, but these people are well qualified, they come from good backgrounds, so I think they'll be fine."

Though some concerns have been raised about police co-operation, Oppal said that wasn't an issue with the Vancouver police, who apologized for mistreating families of missing, albeit not until three-quarters of the way through the inquiry.

Oppal heard from many families who faced roadblocks when trying to report missing family members.

They recounted being told by police "Sorry man, we don't have time to look for hookers," or "Your daughter's a drug addict, what do you expect us to do?" said Oppal.

Working on the national inquiry's side, however, is a change in public perception.

"The public … is finally aware of the problem, and in the Pickton years they weren't," said Oppal.

In 2010, Oppal says the community responded to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women with indifference — a pitfall he thinks the current inquiry won't have to deal with.

With files from Holly Moore

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