Tears flowed as families of missing, murdered forced to select roundtable delegates

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OTTAWA—Tears flowed and old pain surfaced Thursday as the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women were forced to select their representatives for a roundtable Friday with federal and provincial politicians.

The process left many family members shaken, said C.J Julian, sister of Norma George who was one of serial-killer Robert Pickton’s victims.

“I just think what they did was re-victimize the families by picking four ceremonial witnesses for the national roundtable. It felt like we had to go against each other… I saw a lot of people walk away with heavy hearts,” said Julian. “It was like we all went against each other. It was like lateral violence. We had to pick looking at each other.”

The families of the murdered and missing were told they could only pick four people to attend the national roundtable. The were told to pick delegates representing the four directions: North, South, East and West.

Julian was not one of the delegates selected to attend the roundtable which will be held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Ottawa. She will be part of a parallel gathering for families and the public at Carleton University.

Friday’s roundtable meeting will be chaired by Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and attended by provincial leaders, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn.

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch are scheduled to attend Friday’s meeting.

Representatives from Indigenous organizations will also attend the roundtable, which will be closed to the public.

Families gathered Thursday at the Delta Hotel to select their delegates for Friday’s meeting.

Some of the family members wept after realizing they would not get a chance to share their voice and pain at the national roundtable.

The frustration boiled over a times.

Miriam Saunders, the Inuk mother of Loretta Saunders, 26, who was murdered in Halifax last year, was upset over the event’s organization and was seen in a heated argument with Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.

A visibly upset Miriam Saunders, who wasn’t invited by the Nova Scotia organization, said she was frustrated and confused over which region she fit into.

Bev Jacobs, who is from Six Nations and a former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, was picked as one of the delegates.

Jacobs said each of the representatives would only be able to speak for four minutes at the roundtable. She said she would reflect the pain and tears from the family members at Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m going to share their pain. I’m going to tell them what I am seeing right now,” said Jacobs. “I’m going to share their voice.”

Jacobs said she was against the roundtable from the beginning arguing it would just hurt families again.

“I’m disappointed in the process. I don’t know who designed it, but it’s not respectful of the families,” she said.

Jacobs said she’s like to see a Royal Commission.

The other delegates selected to represent the families at the roundtable included: Judy Maas, from Blueberry River in British Columbia, whose sister Cynthia Mass was killed in 2010 in Prince George, B.C.; Darlene Osborne, from Norway House Cree Nation, Man., and the cousin of Helen Betty Osborne who was kidnapped and murdered in The Pas, Man., in 1971; Diane Lilley, whose 21-year-old sister Cindy Burk was murdered along the Highway of Tears in 1990.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is personally against a public inquiry and has told two successive Assembly of First Nations national chiefs he won’t be calling one.

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B.C. missing women inquiry led to changes, but roots of violence remain

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Vancouver Police Department)

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (Vancouver Police Department)

By Elaine Chau, CBC News

Violence against aboriginal women remains a problem that police and governments aren’t addressing well enough, say women’s advocates, two years after the B.C.’s missing women inquiry released 63 recommendations for major change.

Commissioner Wally Oppal’s inquiry into missing and murdered women slammed police for botching their investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on Vancouver sex workers from 1997 to 2002.

The issue returned to the spotlight after the family of Stephanie Lane, whose partial remains were found on Pickton’s farm, called for a new murder charge against the killer last week.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, says that when it comes to addressing violence against aboriginal women, more lasting change is needed.

“We need to see that change in an ongoing way. We need the political will. What we haven’t seen is the systemic change that we would need to get at the roots of why we have this type of violence.”

$750K for drop-in centre helping sex workers

MacDougall is optimistic about the changes she’s seeing, however, citing improvements to the Missing Persons Act and the evaluation of the Vancouver police’s Sister Watch program.

Missing Women Inquiry

B.C.’s inquiry into missing and murdered women slammed police for botching their investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton, above, who preyed on Vancouver sex workers.

She says she’s encouraged by Vancouver police efforts to improve their relationship with vulnerable women.

One of the missing women inquiry’s recommendations acted upon immediately was the provision of $750,000 to the WISH Drop-In Centre Society — an organization that provides services for sex workers.

As a result, WISH is able to stay open overnight, helping staff see many more women — around 180 in the course of the day. Kate Gibson, executive director, says her clients appreciate the change.

“I think the main thing that we hear, is that they can access the services, that it’s much more responsive to their schedules.

“I think that’s made a huge difference for women who didn’t have a safe place to go in the middle of the night.”

Tribal council calls for women’s buses in northern B.C.

MacDougall and Gibson point to northern B.C. as the region where support for vulnerable women is most needed.

According to the province’s final status update report in response to the missing women inquiry, $350,000 has been provided to the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George to deliver community safety workshops along Highway 16.

The government also provided $75,000 to the group, to support increased access to driver education, but, more concretely, the group is asking for shuttle buses to transport women safely throughout northern communities.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone told CBC Radio’s The Early Edition in December 2014 he didn’t think shuttle buses are a practical solution.