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Independent Counsel Report to Commissioner of Inquiry August 16, 2012

Independent Counsel Report to Commissioner of Inquiry August 16, 2012

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Published by The Vancouver Sun

A new Missing Women inquiry report from various Downtown Eastside groups calls for giving the children of the dead missing women financial compensation and decriminalizing sex work, heroin and cocaine, among a total of 37 recommendations.

A new Missing Women inquiry report from various Downtown Eastside groups calls for giving the children of the dead missing women financial compensation and decriminalizing sex work, heroin and cocaine, among a total of 37 recommendations.

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Published by: The Vancouver Sun on Aug 23, 2012
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Report of Independent Counselto the Commissioner of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry
Submitted this 25
th
day of June, 2012 _____________________ Jason GratlGratl & CompanyBarristers and Solicitors302-560 Beatty StreetVancouver, BCV6B 2L3604-694-1919 (t)604-608-1919 (f)
 
Introduction
Prostitution will always lead into a moral quagmire in democratic societies with capitalisteconomies; it invades the terrain of intimate sexual relations yet beckons for regulation. Asociety's response to prostitution goes to the core of how it chooses between the rights of some persons and the protection of others.BARBARA MEIL HOBSON,
Uneasy Virtue
This is the Report of Independent Counsel for the interests and perspectives of individuals and organizations within the Downtown Eastside who may be affected byfindings of fact and recommendations of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.Independent Counsel was appointed by the Commissioner of Inquiry on August 15, 2011,to act in the public interest at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry by consultingwith, taking guidance from and representing the interests and perspectives of affectedcommunities of the Downtown Eastside. The appointment of Independent Counsel wasnecessitated by the refusal of the Attorney General of British Columbia, Barry Penner, tofollow the Commissioner’s March 10, 2011 recommendation to fund legal counsel for four sets of full participant groups.
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The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has a duty to make findings of fact andrecommendations respecting the conduct of the missing women investigations. This dutywill be satisfied in the public interest by taking a values-based approach to answering thequestion of why the missing women were not protected by the Provincial RCMP andMunicipal police forces in British Columbia. It is not appropriate to attend exclusively to police decision-making outside the sphere of human values; policing is not a roboticexercise.To understand policing and the exercise of police discretion, it is necessary to makefindings of fact dealing with police attitudes and biases that affected police decision-making. Even ideal laws, regulations and policies cannot prevent tragedy if the personsgoverned by them harbour attitudes and biases that lead to selective enforcement. ThisInquiry cannot hope to succeed unless it persuades the public that it is wrong to diminishthe value placed on the lives of survival sex workers.A central task of this Inquiry is therefore to set forth the discriminatory attitudes and beliefs that contributed to the ongoing disappearances of survival sex workers. Survival
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The four unfunded Full Participant groupings were as follows: (1) Sex Workers United Against Violence,Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society and Women’s Information and Safe House;(2) Native Women’s Association of Canada; (3) Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Frank PaulSociety and Walk4Justice; and (4) Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the Committee of theFebruary 14 Memorial March. Of these organizations, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users was theonly organization not to withdraw from the Missing Women’s Inquiry.
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sex workers exist at the interstices of moral and legal discrimination against sex work,moral and legal discrimination against drug use, racial discrimination against Aboriginal persons, and gender-based discrimination against women.
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Discriminatory attitudes and beliefs on the part of police marginalized and perpetuatedthe existence of a social underclass of survival sex workers who were driven by the public and by the police into the most dangerous recesses of Vancouver’s DowntownEastside and were not provided with police protection in proportion to the risks theyfaced.It is critical for this Inquiry to strike a balance between individual and institutionalresponsibility for discrimination against survival sex workers. The leadership of hierarchical policing organizations bears responsibility for the culture and values of theseinstitutions. Instances of discriminatory conduct should be placed into the context of institutional cultures, recognizing that specific instances of discrimination may be both anexpression of a wider institutional culture and may contribute to the perpetuation of thatculture.Similarly, it is important for this Inquiry to strike a balance between institutionalresponsibility and societal responsibility. This Inquiry must set out the legislated and political demands on police forces to eradicate public sex work and drug use and toremove sex workers from public areas. Setting out the cultural context of policing maylimit the temptation to blame the police while ignoring the failings of the society withinwhich policing occurs.Inevitably, however, the conduct of municipal police forces, the Provincial police forceand individual members of those forces are under scrutiny at this Inquiry, and their decisions and values are subject to examination. It is hoped that this report will assistmembers of the public in striking a balance in their minds between individual,institutional and societal responsibility for the horrific murders and physical and sexualassaults of survival sex workers.It should be recalled that the perspectives and interests of individuals and organizationswithin the Downtown Eastside are not unified. Opinions diverge about whether thisInquiry has the capacity to reach its aspirations, whether sex work should bedecriminalized and regulated, and what approach this Inquiry should take. Resort toIndependent Counsel rather than funding divergent organizations necessarily limits therange of perspectives to which this Inquiry has access.Many organizations and individuals were consulted about the approach to the evidencetaken by Independent Counsel, and some of those individuals and organization providedguidance. In synthesizing guidance from community members regarding interests and perspectives within the Downtown Eastside, this report is most influenced by the
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Other forms of discrimination against sex workers exist, including class-based discrimination, oppressive poverty and discrimination against persons with disabilities including mental health issues. This Report predominantly addresses discrimination against drug users, sex workers and Aboriginal women.
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