Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Into the Archive: Vancouver's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Into the Archive: Vancouver's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Article excerpt


In response to public concern over the prolonged serial killings of Vancouver's Missing Women, in 2010, British Columbia's provincial government called a public inquiry into the police investigation of Robert William Pickton, the convicted murderer of six women from Vancouver's downtown eastside. Intended in part as an opportunity for victims, families, and community members to contribute to a process of collective memory making and archivization, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry ultimately reproduced dominant patterns of silence and exclusion. This article explores the particular mechanisms through which exclusions were enacted; their imbrication with the legal archive that underwrote the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and the process of archivization in which it was engaged; and the implications for future inquiries into systemic race and gender violence in Canada.


Archive, law, space, Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, knowledge production


Brian Hutchison, National Post, 10 April 2012

An expert in systemic racism and Aboriginal stereotypes withdrew from the troubled Missing Women Commission of Inquiry after decided the commission "would not fulfill its mandate," the National Post has learned. UBC anthropology professor Bruce Miller was contracted by the commission as an expert witness and was expected to testify at public hearings that began last fall. He says he submitted a report in advance of his testimony, but by September had informed the commission that he no longer wished to participate in the process. Growing numbers of individuals and groups have criticized the inquiry for paying little attention to the roles that negative stereotyping and racism played in police failures to investigate Vancouver's missing and murdered women, many of whom were Aboriginal.


So opened page A.6 of Wednesday 11 April 2012's National Post. In the days to come, Dr. Bruce Miller and his withdrawn report would populate the pages of local, provincial, and national publications, the coverage full of contradictions and inconsistencies. As Miller explained it to me during an interview in January 2013, the story goes like this. On a day early in April, public media learned that Miller's report on systemic racism, what he described to me as "the conduit for the basic message in this [inquiry] ..., key to the whole enterprise" (2013), would not be entered into evidence in Vancouver's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI), convened to explore police inaction in the murder of upwards of 26 women from the city's downtown eastside (DTES). The contents of the report would remain off the record and no report on systemic racism would replace it. The specific circumstances of this determination have been debated in the press. Through a privacy agreement signed during the initial stages of his participation in the MWCI prevented him from clarifying further, Miller told me unequivocally:

I submitted a report. It was complete.... I read about a thousand pages of police documents. And I wrote a report about it. And [the commission] made it clear they were not interested in it. Anything regarding systemic racism as it might relate to the police force, they were not interested. And they made it very threateningly clear to me. (Miller, 2013)

This article takes Miller's story as entry into the process of accumulation, preservation, and circulation of hies, papers, photos, scripts, newspaper stories, and other items that comprise one of the most material legacies of public inquiries: the archive. I look to the empirical contributions of legal professionals and community organizers, (1) the MWCI transcripts, and news media as essential sources of knowledge and insight into a contemporary event of archives-in-the-making. I ask: How is the archive generative of, and constituted by, space and law? …

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