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B.C. won't pay travel costs for families to hear missing-women inquiry report

Photographs of missing women are displayed as commissioner Wally Oppal speaks at a public forum for the missing women’s inquiry in Vancouver on Jan. 19, 2011.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Missing Women commissioner Wally Oppal's public inquiry report will be released Dec. 17 – but the B.C. government will not provide funding for victims' relatives who want to travel to Vancouver for the release, says a lawyer in the proceedings.

Family members of the missing and murdered women received a letter Thursday from Shirley Bond, the province's Minister of Justice. In it, Ms. Bond pledged the government would carefully review and consider the commissioner's report. She vowed the memory of the missing and murdered women would be honoured.

But Neil Chantler, one of the lawyers who represented the victims' relatives at the inquiry, said he is disappointed the province won't pay for family members who want to make the trip and be on hand when Mr. Oppal discusses his report. "I think the government ought to go the extra mile for the families in this case, given how important the inquiry is to the families," he said.

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Mr. Chantler said the province did provide funding for the families during the inquiry. He said he did not know why the government decided against it this time around. The release will be live-streamed on the Internet.

Despite repeated requests, the Ministry of Justice would not confirm it had decided against the funding. An e-mail statement from the ministry Thursday evening said, "Government is still developing details around the release of the report and our first step was to provide families advanced notice of the release date, and information on accessing the report. We are trying to respect that there will be individual preferences regarding receipt of the report."

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn's DNA was found on the farm belonging to serial killer Robert Pickton, said the decision against funding would be "unfortunate."

"Many that may want to come, the costs are going to be prohibitive, right? I think government should have known that and should have planned for that," he said. "It's not that there's so many families that show up that they're going to run up a huge tab. It's regrettable."

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, tasked with investigating how Mr. Pickton was able to get away with his crimes for so long, was first announced in 2010. Mr. Oppal submitted his five-volume, 1,448-page report to the province last month.

Mr. Oppal, a former provincial cabinet minister, has been much criticized since he was named commissioner. The inquiry's terms of reference and the province's decision not to fund groups representing sex workers and Downtown Eastside residents have also been blasted.

Three community groups held a news conference last month – before Mr. Oppal's final report was even submitted – to brand the inquiry an "absolute failure." Mr. Oppal, in turn, urged the groups to keep an open mind until the report is released.

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