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Pickton inquiry adds independent lawyers amid legal funding dispute

Commissioner Wally Oppal listens to presentations during the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry public forum in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 19, 2011.


The public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case has appointed two independent lawyers to represent the interests of aboriginal women and residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an attempt to pacify a number of community groups that plan to boycott the hearings.

The appointments come as a growing list of advocacy groups that were granted participant status at the inquiry vow to skip the hearings because they were denied provincial government funding.

The pair of lawyers appointed Wednesday won't represent any specific client, but a news release said they will take guidance from the groups that have been granted participant status.

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The lawyers are former B.C. Civil Liberties Association president Jason Gratl, and Robyn Gervais, who has previously represented the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and will also have the help of two additional lawyers working pro bono.

Commissioner Wally Oppal recommended 13 participants receive public funding to pay for lawyers at the inquiry, but the provincial government only approved funding for relatives of Mr. Pickton's victims.

Some of the groups that were denied funding have already said they won't use the independent lawyers because they feel the lawyers won't be able to properly represent their interests.

So far, more than half of the community groups that were granted status have either formally withdrawn or announced plans to.

The groups that have dropped out include: a collection of sex-work organizations such as the WISH drop-in centre; the Native Women's Association of Canada; the Frank Paul Society; the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council; the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs; the Women's Equality and Security Coalition; and the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C.

Several others, including the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, have raised doubts about whether they'll participate, but have yet to make a final decision.

Mr. Oppal will examine why Vancouver police and the RCMP failed to catch Mr. Pickton as he murdered sex workers from the city's Downtown Eastide.

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Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm in nearby Port Coquitlam, and he bragged to police that he killed 49.

The hearings are scheduled to begin Oct. 11 in Vancouver.

Mr. Oppal will also hold a less formal study commission that will look at broader issues surrounding missing and murdered women, including cases along the so-called highway of tears in Northern B.C.

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