Province funds Highway of Tears workshops

Social worker Marlaena Mann says she still meets many young people who hitch-hike along the “Highway of Tears.”

Social worker Marlaena Mann says she still meets many young people who hitch-hike along the “Highway of Tears.”

“Most people say, ‘Well, I’ve done it before,’ or ‘I’ve had friends that have done it and nothing happened to them,” she says.

“But when we start telling stories about what happened to these girls, they go ‘Oh.’”

“I think there’s a lack of awareness and it really can be a danger.”

Mann is special projects manager at Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George.

Between now and next spring, Mann said CSFC will tour a violence prevention workshop through Smithers and six other towns along the Highway 16 corridor.

“That’s where we’re focusing our energy,” she said.

A 2006 symposium hosted by CSFC came up with a list of things communities can do to promote safety northern B.C.’s highways, she said, including setting up carpools and lobbying for better cellphone reception.

“A lot of those initiatives are happening, so we’re really focusing on empowering communities to empower individuals,” she said.

In March, CSFC received a $250,000 provincial grant to run the violence preventing workshops, which will train aboriginal leaders, educators, community agencies, and RCMP.

Funding for the grant came from the province’s new Civil Forfeiture Act, which allows police to quickly take over assets used by criminals.

Mann said the CSFC already has a training materials on related topics like drug-facilitated sexual assault, and tips for women who are working or travelling alone.

What’s missing, she said, is a toolkit geared towards youth and staff to help with the training.

“We’re looking for someone with, preferably, a social work background, who has experience in working with either victims, families of victims, or crime prevention,” said Mann.

Since 2007, RCMP have run a joint investigation into 18 unsolved cases of mostly aboriginal women and girls who were murdered or who disappeared along Highway 16 and the adjoining Highway 5 and 97.