British Columbia

Trudeau's missing and murdered women inquiry needs right tone, terms: Wally Oppal

A former B.C. attorney general who led the province's investigation into missing and murdered aboriginal women says it's vital for the incoming Liberal government to strike the right tone and clearly define the terms for its own inquiry.

Former attorney general says a national inquiry need not take the same steps as the one in B.C.

Wally Oppal, B.C.'s former Attorney General, led the province's inquiry into missing and murdered women. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A former B.C. attorney general who led the province's investigation into missing and murdered aboriginal women says it's vital for the incoming Liberal government to strike the right tone and clearly define the terms for its own long-sought and long-awaited inquiry.

Wally Oppal conducted hearings and published a 2012 report on how authorities handled cases involving missing and murdered women in the wake of the Robert Pickton case.

Pickton, one of Canada's most notorious serial killers, was convicted in 2007 of the murders of six women and charged in the deaths of 20 others.

The incoming Liberal government needs to first determine what kind of an inquiry it wants to conduct in order to ensure that it is proactive, Oppal said in an interview.

"I would think that if you're going to have an inquiry, you don't need to have one of the type that we had, where the police were cross-examined for endless days because one of our tasks was to find out what the police did wrong during the Pickton years," he said.

"I think if they're going to have one, they should have an inquiry that goes to the various communities and the centres, a commissioner or group of commissioners, to get the voice of the communities.

"It never hurts to talk to the communities to get their views and to bring them on side."

Grass roots support 'crucial'

Dawn Lavell Harvard, president of the Native Women Women's Association of Canada, said it's crucial that the first stage of the inquiry include consulting with both grassroots groups and the families of victims.

"We have laid the ground work," she said. "We have been fighting for this. We have been working on this. Our women have the expertise and the knowledge that's required here so they need to be driving that process."

Joan Jack, who ran for the AFN's top job, says grassroots support would be 'crucial' for a national inquiry. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Ojibway activist Joan Jack, a retired lawyer who previously ran to become national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said it would be a very respectful gesture for prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau to sit down with families.

"The families that have lost loved ones represent us all," Jack said. "As First Nations people, as indigenous people, we are very connected and when somebody is hurt, we are all hurt."

Jack also said she hopes there will be an examination of violence inside and outside of indigenous communities. "We can't just point outside our community and not also take a good hard look at ourselves."

Inquiry to launch 'immediately'

In their election platform, the Liberals committed to "immediately" launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The party said it would seek recommendations for governments, law enforcement and others to help "solve these crimes and prevent future ones." It also promised to spend $40 million on the study over two years.

Canada's Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered women 'immediately' after being elected. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Oppal said it will be important for the government to spend wisely.

"You could not have the type of inquiry that we had, where we had witnesses being called and being examined, you couldn't do that for $40 million across the country," he said. "The moment you announce a national inquiry, the lawyers are going to line up. So you have to be careful as to how you're going to spend the money."

Oppal also said the Grits should take previous inquiries into account to ensure the new investigation does not cover old ground.

"It is no great mystery as to what is causing all of this," he said. "It's poverty, drug addiction, it's mental illness ... homelessness and the general standards of living on reserves that cause aboriginal women to come into the urban centres."

The former commissioner said now is the time to examine prevention and policies, including community resources available to help indigenous women and what more needs to be done.


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