For Trisha Baptie, the decision not to fund women’s and Aboriginal groups as part of BC’s missing women’s inquiry is part of an all too familiar pattern.
It is part of a larger history of systematic racism and sexism that has been working to silence the voices of marginalized women for decades.
“I think it’s why we are allowed to go missing,” said Baptie, a member of WESC (Women’s Equality and Security Coalition), a coalition of women’s organizations that was granted standing in the inquiry.
“It’s why our voices are not heard in the justice system, because we’re not valued, because all we have is our lived experience and somehow that doesn’t count as anything.”
A number of women’s groups, including WESC, withdrew from the inquiry when funding for legal representation was denied. They cited unfair process and a lack of support as reason for non-participation.
While some families of the missing and murdered women are still participating in the inquiry, which began Oct.11, WESC, The Coalition of Sex Worker Serving Organizations, The Assembly of First Nations, as well as the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) have all withdrawn.
Baptie said that in order to participate in the inquiry, groups and individuals must have legal representation and, while the VPD and the RCMP have both been provided with funding for legal representation, these women’s groups have been denied the same support.
Corinthia Kelly, a member of the Women’s Memorial March Committee, said the police are the subject of the inquiry about how 69 women could go missing and “are protected by a team of 14 lawyers.”
“The people who would be most likely to be able to give information about what went wrong during those years have no legal representation… The members of the community who are [most] affected by that inaction by the police and who are most likely to have information that will reveal what went wrong [have been denied funding].”
Since the inquiry opened, members of these groups have remained outside 701 West Georgia, where the hearings are taking place, in protest. They plan on remaining there until Nov. 1.
While the inquiry was initiated in order to interrogate the reasons police did not take action in regards to the women who were disappearing from the Downtown Eastside, it points to issues that go beyond the Downtown Eastside and beyond common stereotypes.
Kelly said it’s not only women who are addicted sex workers, “it’s about women going missing across Canada…the thing they have in common is being Aboriginal.”
‘This is to do with racism’
Since the 1960s, women have gone missing from the Highway of Tears, a 700 km section of Highway 16 in Northern BC that runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert, named because of the number of women who have disappeared from that deserted stretch.
Most of these women were Aboriginal, and most of these disappearances and murders remain unsolved.
Kelly said this is nothing new and is about more than simply material conditions: “It’s not to do with transportation issues, like we need better bus service and then everything will be ok. This is to do with racism. This is to do with Canadian history, from the very beginning…This country is built on the blood and the bones of our people.”
Baptie said the inquiry needs to be scrapped. “I don’t think we’ll get anything out of this inquiry that we were asking or that needs to happen. I think it needs to stop today. [We need to start over again] and create a respectful and level playing field for everyone.”
For Kelly, it comes down to history repeating itself. “The inquiry does look a lot like the power is in the hands of the same old people.”