The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is demanding that the provincial government launch an inquiry into missing and murdered women.
UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a March 11 news release that B.C.'s government shouldn't wait for serial killer Robert Pickton's appeal - it should, he said, soon launch an inquiry into the disappearances of women on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and the "Highway of Tears" near Prince George.
"We feel it is critically important that this inquiry into the police actions, or inaction, on these files takes place now," Phillip said in the news release. "Truth, accountability, reform and reconciliation measures relative to this continuing horrific tragedy are all part of what the families of the victims and our Aboriginal communities need to see."
The issue of missing and murdered women goes back at least to 1998, when the Vancouver Sun began reporting that several women had gone missing from the Downtown Eastside since 1995.
The Sun first reported that 10 women went missing, but that number climbed to 45 by 2001, many of them aboriginal women caught up in drug abuse and Vancouver's sex trade.
One of them, Sherry Irving, was the daughter of Shirley Irving, a Lil'wat woman, and sister of former Mount Currie Band Councillor Chris Irving. Irving grew up in Comox but left her family in 1991. After her parents divorced, she visited her mother in Mount Currie on occasion.
Her name later turned up on a list of women that Pickton has been charged with killing. Although he's only been convicted of six second-degree murder charges (an additional 20 second-degree murder charges have yet to be dealt with), he'll start appealing on March 30.
Wayne Irving, Sherry's father, would welcome an inquiry if the provincial government decided to convene one.
"I support that call 100 per cent," he said. "When you're missing a member of your family or lost a member of your family it's never too late. It hasn't stopped, there's still other people missing and whatnot. Something has to be done."
Whether that happens remains to be seen and depends largely on the outcome of Pickton's appeal. B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal said in a phone interview that it's premature to think about an inquiry right now, but that everyone wants to find out what happened to the missing women.
"What's happened as far as the missing women's concerned is tragic, but at this stage the matter is before the court of appeal," he said.
"Let's assume that the Court of Appeal orders a new trial or there is a further trial on the 20 remaining charges that are outstanding. You cannot possibly hold an inquiry because the same witnesses would be required at the inquiry who are required at the trial."
The call for an inquiry comes as aboriginal groups have already been in discussion with the federal government about holding a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Beverly Jacobs, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada held a meeting with Chuck Strahl, federal minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, last November, at which they discussed the possibility of holding an inquiry. No commitment was made, but Jacobs said at the time that an inquiry was "highly likely."
In an interview Monday, Jacobs said she'd welcome an inquiry in B.C. at the provincial level and it wouldn't have any bearing on national efforts.
"We're in total support of their call for the inquiry," she said. "Whatever processes need to be addressed in any of them, in whatever capacity, needs to be done urgently."