Editorial — Inquiry an exercise in wasted opportunities

Lawyers billed in the millions, but little of long-term value comes from Oppal inquiry.

The Missing Women Inquiry, chaired by former judge and attorney-general Wally Oppal, was an exercise in wasted opportunities.

The inquiry report, made public on Monday, tells the public almost nothing new about the sad case of the dozens of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Many of them were murdered by Robert Willie Pickton, but he has only been convicted of six murders. Twenty other charges against him were stayed, ironically under Oppal’s watch as B.C.’s attorney-general.

The inquiry itself became quickly bogged down with far too many lawyers representing police officers, current and retired, at taxpayers’ expense. The police officers had nothing to fear from any testimony. None of them have been disciplined in any way.

The actual victims received minimal attention throughout much of the inquiry, although Oppal tried to make up for it with the title of his report, Forsaken, and some expressions of sympathy at his Monday news conference.

This is not a knock at him personally — he is a compassionate man — but the inquiry was flawed from the start, with limited terms of reference and insistence that police be represented by legions of lawyers. They went on to take control of the proceedings and bill to their heart’s content. They slowed it to such a degree that Oppal needed time extensions and had to rush some testimony.

The Law Society of B.C. should be concerned about such legal over-representation and misuse of scarce public funds, but no such concerns will come from that quarter. There will be no biting of the hand that feeds.

One recommendation of Oppal’s receiving some attention is one he’s pushed before — a regional police force. He came up with that in the 1990s while he was still a judge, and was heading up an inquiry into policing called by the NDP government of the day.

Unfortunately, there is little in the way of concrete evidence that, had a regional police force been in place, Pickton would have been caught any sooner. Police let him from their grasp once, and he returned to his killing spree. As Oppal observes, the women of the Downtown Eastside were of little worth in the eyes of police and most members of society, and police didn’t overly concern themselves with those who went missing.

If there was a regional police force at the time, how would that have been different? Oppal assumes there would be no turf and jurisdictional wars within a regional force, which is naive in the extreme.

This inquiry was launched with great fanfare by Premier Christy Clark, as proof that she was doing things differently. It has ended with a thud, with little to show for all Oppal’s efforts except a raft of lawyers’ bills.

The lawyers who took part in this inquiry will all enjoy Christmas. It’s too bad that can’t be said for the families of the missing women. They are left with memories of their loved ones and how they suffered and disappeared at the hands of Robert Willie Pickton — and how that was made possible by the indifference of police and society at large.

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