Vic­tims anx­ious for stalled in­quiry to give them voice

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — For 16 years, Maggy Gisle thought her lot in life was to be a “junkie, a pros­ti­tute and a drug dealer.”

Now, Gisle — once known as “Crazy Jackie,” a fix­ture on the Down­town East­side who would in­ject co­caine to sup­press her night­mares of child­hood sex­ual abuse — has re­turned to her old Van­cou­ver haunts, this time with a more noble mis­sion.

Gisle spends her own time and money col­lect­ing sto­ries and in­put from oth­ers on the no­to­ri­ous strip, hop­ing to pro­vide the ma­te­rial to the forth­com­ing na­tional pub­lic in­quiry into miss­ing and mur­dered indige­nous women.

She counts her­self among the grow­ing ranks of abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans, ad­vo­cates and fam­ily mem­bers who are grow­ing frus­trated and de­spon­dent about a lack of a clear time­line as to when they’re go­ing to be able to share their tes­ti­mony.

While the com­mis­sion is set to hold its first pub­lic hear­ing on May 29 in White­horse, other com­mu­nity meet­ings won’t take place un­til later this fall at the ear­li­est.

No other dates have been con­firmed for ad­di­tional hear­ings, an in­quiry spokesper­son said in a state­ment, and the com­mis­sion has yet to de­velop a data­base com­pris­ing the names of the vic­tims.

“There are now about 294 fam­i­lies who have reached out to the na­tional in­quiry and iden­ti­fied as wish­ing to par­tic­i­pate,” said com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Bernee Bolton.

“There is an ex­ten­sive com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions plan to con­nect to fam­i­lies and sur­vivors.”

Gisle has spent about $1,300 of her own sav­ings to travel to Van­cou­ver from her home in Lund, B.C. — a me­an­der­ing, five­hour trip by car — to en­sure the voices of women like her, many still liv­ing on the streets, do not fall through the cracks.

“The in­quiry is all very well and good, but the pub­lic won’t get a full pic­ture if they don’t know what is ac­tu­ally go­ing on on the streets right now,” said Gisle, who plans to gather ma­te­rial by video­tap­ing in­ter­views with the women. “All this time, they could have been com­pil­ing in­for­ma­tion and get­ting state­ments or at least do­ing an up­dated list for the miss­ing women and ev­ery­thing is on hold … the pub­lic is frus­trated, too.”

Su­san Vella, the in­quiry’s lead le­gal coun­sel, said it will be crit­i­cal to build re­la­tion­ships in or­der to gain the trust of sur­vivors.

One way to do so, she said, would be to ask in­di­vid­u­als or or­ga­ni­za­tions to reach out to their net­works of friends, fam­ily and ac­quain­tances in or­der to en­cour­age them to take part — pre­cisely what Gisle is try­ing to do.

“It is to build on a pre-ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship of trust and re­spect and fa­cil­i­tate a con­nec­tion with us di­rectly — hav­ing an in­ter­me­di­ary, if you will,” Vella said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

But earn­ing trust — and keep­ing it — will be in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult with­out clear time­lines, ex­perts say.

Dave Dick­son, a for­mer po­lice con­sta­ble who spent 28 years work­ing on the Down­town East­side and forg­ing trust with women like Gisle, said he isn’t par­tic­u­larly op­ti­mistic about the work of the in­quiry or the rec­om­men­da­tions that will flow from it.

The fed­eral govern­ment has ear­marked $53.8 mil­lion for the two-year na­tional pub­lic in­quiry; the com­mis­sion must pro­duce an in­terim re­port by Novem­ber.

The root causes of vi­o­lence against indige­nous women are al­ready well-known, said Dick­son, de­scrib­ing deep-seated is­sues like en­demic sex­ual abuse in com­mu­ni­ties as an un­spo­ken taboo.

Gisle, who watched friends dis­ap­pear dur­ing the Pick­ton years, said there’s an un­ac­knowl­edged un­der­cur­rent of abuse, linked to the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, that is of­ten tol­er­ated in indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

“I have never, ever met any­body (on the Down­town East­side) that had not been abused … from vary­ing de­grees, from in­cest, rape, be­ing abused by their brother, be­ing abused by an un­cle,” she said.

DAR­RYL DYCK, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Maggy Gisle, seen in Van­cou­ver, is among a num­ber of indige­nous women in­creas­ingly frus­trated about the lack of a clear time­line to share their sto­ries.

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