Lawyer who quit missing women’s inquiry speaks at UVic

Robyn Gervais stepped down as the independent counsel for aboriginal groups because she felt the inquiry was too focused on police evidence.

The lawyer who had been representing aboriginal interests in the inquiry of missing women in Vancouver, spoke at the University of Victoria last Wednesday (March 21) for the first time since she quit the investigation.

Robyn Gervais stepped down as the independent counsel for aboriginal groups on March 6 because she felt the inquiry was too focused on police evidence.

“I didn’t feel that aboriginal interests were adequately represented,” she told the News** by phone. “I didn’t feel there was enough of an aboriginal voice in the room, there was no look at systemic racism.”

The event was put on by UVic students concerned “that the inquiry is silencing the voices of those most affected by violence in the DTES (Downtown Eastside of Vancouver),” a press release said.

A panel of women and representatives from women’s groups spoke out about the failures of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and suggested what they think could be done with the inquiry.

Along with Gervais, panelists included Laura Track, legal director for the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (a group dedicated to achieving equality for women), and Jen Allan, a former sex trade worker.

The panel of three discussed the lack of funding needed to help women’s and Indigenous groups take part in the inquiry.

Gervais said the aboriginal community has supported her decision to step down, noting one of the last participating aboriginal groups, the First Nations Summit, has now also quit the inquiry.

A report to the United Nations detailing Canada’s failure to address problems of violence and discrimination against aboriginal women in the Downtown Eastside and across the country was also discussed.

“The whole point of being able to make recommendations for people who actually work on the ground, I think, is a really important part of this and maybe that’s not necessarily a part that we heard inside the commission,” Gervais said.

The best thing that could come out of the inquiry at this point are recommendations for policing, Gervais said.

“The best they can probably do is come up with some policing recommendations in terms of missing persons investigations going forward,” she said.

Gervais added that a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women is needed. She said the UN is in support of this but it depends on whether or not the federal government agrees.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was put on hold after Gervais left the inquiry. Suzette Narbonne and Elizabeth Hunt are the two new lawyers appointed to represent the aboriginal community.

The inquiry will resume April 2. Formal hearings are scheduled to end at the end of the month.

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