Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rights groups won't join Pickton inquiry

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VANCOUVER -- The public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case lost another two participants Thursday just days before it opens as two high-profile human rights groups quit over what they described as a flawed process that will shut out society's most-vulnerable voices.

Hearings are scheduled to begin next Tuesday as commissioner Wally Oppal investigates why police failed to stop Pickton as he hunted sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The public inquiry has been overshadowed by controversy over everything from the appointment of Oppal -- a former appeal court judge and Liberal cabinet minister -- to the provincial government's refusal to fund a number of non-profit advocacy groups despite Oppal's recommendation they receive public money to pay for lawyers.

A growing list of groups have either formally withdrawn or publicly announced they won't be attending because of the funding decision, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International joined their ranks Thursday.

The two groups don't necessarily need the funding themselves. Amnesty International doesn't accept government money in any event, and the civil liberties association has participated in a number of lengthy and complex public inquiries and legal cases without such funding.

But both organizations said the government's decision to effectively shut out smaller non-profits such as drop-in centres for sex workers and First Nations groups has meant the process is irreparably broken.

"To participate in a process that is that flawed and to lend legitimacy to it, we decided was to contribute to a kind of injustice,'' Michael Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said.

"Participants who were granted standing, in order to meaningfully exercise their standing, require counsel. There are something like a million documents to review in this," he said, noting they also need lawyers to effectively cross-examine witnesses.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2011 A13

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