Ernie Crey fears the public inquiry into the police handling of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side is “unravelling” as the B.C. government refuses to pay legal fees for sex trade workers and others who want to take part in the hearings.
Crey said his fear is based on the funding refusal - despite the urging of inquiry head Wally Oppal - and comments by B.C. Premier Christy Clark at a recent First Nations Summit.
“Her comments about how money shouldn’t be spent on lawyers (to combat violence against aboriginal women) is really an oblique reference to the inquiry,” Crey told The Progress.
“I think we’re witnessing the unravelling of this inquiry,” he said. “I’m really angry because I was one of the people who fought really hard for the inquiry.”
Two aboriginal groups and the native courtworkers’ association have already pulled out of the inquiry.
At the June 9 summit, Clark said it is her responsibility as premier to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women, but she believes money is “not necessarily best spent on lawyers.”
“I think the solution will be (delivering) real services to real people, people who are living with violence every day.”
In May, Attorney-General Barry Penner, Chilliwack-Hope MLA, announced the government would pay legal fees for family members of the murdered and missing women, but other groups, like sex trade workers and aboriginal people who were the targets of serial killer Robert Pickton, would have to pay their own costs.
Critics of the decision pointed to the millions government spent on the HST referendum.
Crey’s sister Dawn is one of the missing women, although her case was not one of the six Crown counsel pursued in court against Pickton, who was eventually convicted on all six counts of second-degree murder.
Despite the fact that Dawn’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, Crey must now tell the National Parole Board how he was “harmed” by Pickton before he is eligible for information on the convicted killer’s movements.
Crey said he was called by a NPB official a few months ago and asked if he would like to be notified each time Pickton is moved within the corrections system.
Crey replied that he would, but then came a July 29 letter from the parole board.
“Because this offender was not convicted of the offence against your family member, (the parole board) will require from you a short statement indicating how you were harmed by the offender,” a parole board official said in the letter.
Crey said it is “these types of screw-ups, born of either insensitivity or incompetence or both, that frustrate and cause heartache to the families of the murdered and missing women.”
“I will contact both the NPB and the responsible federal minister to register my complaints,” he said, but added he doesn’t expect “much, if any, simpatico from the minister as the missing and murdered women, especially those from the Downtown East Side, are not a priority for them.”
Crey was also cautioned in the letter that Pickton will receive a copy of his request, although identifying information will be removed.
Pickton is serving a life sentence, but may apply for escorted temporary absences at any time, and becomes eligible for unescorted temporary absences on Feb. 22, 2024. He becomes eligible for full parole on Feb. 22, 2027.