The Missing Women’s Inquiry met Sept. 14 in Smithers to hear stories of the women and children who have gone missing along Highway 16.
The inquiry is led by former B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal, who began the night with some short remarks before opening the floor to community feedback.
The inquiry invites speakers to share their stories and to suggest how to improve missing persons investigations in the future.
The Smithers meeting heard many emotional statements from relatives of missing persons as well as thoughts from area service providers.
“Everybody needs to start caring,” said one speaker, who remarked that the public’s response to the disappearance of Nicole Hoar was stronger than for that of Ramona Wilson, even though Hoar was not from the area.
Ramona’s sister and mother also attended the event. Her sister Brenda said the family is growing tired of trying to raise people’s awareness and is now looking to the government, the RCMP and the community to start helping them out.
Oppal called the stories he heard “heart-wrenching” and praised everyone who came up to speak.
“Courageous people came before us and told us of their losses in their families,” he said.
So far, Oppal added, the inquiry has heard many calls to improve public transportation and to provide more social supports for at-risk youth.
“We need to prevent crimes from taking place,” he said.
The inquiry members were also surprised to find that many stretches of Highway 16 lack any reliable cell phone service—a technical problem that puts young people in danger. “Living in the Lower Mainland our cells work everywhere, but once we got on Highway 16 cell service went out,” he said. “That needs to be corrected.”
Some speakers expressed a need to hold a separate or joint inquiry that can look into the criminal investigation of the missing persons along the Highway of Tears.
Those remarks weren’t lost on Oppal, but he explained that such an inquiry can’t be held at the same time that police are still investigating.
“That’s why the inquiry here was established after the Pickton convictions were affirmed,” he said.
Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson made a few opening remarks at the meeting in Smithers, and had attended a few of the other meetings. He said from what he has heard he thinks a two-pronged approach on public transportation and greater resources for investigations are needed to address people’s concerns.
People have said that the transit that is available is usually full before it even reaches Moricetown from the west, meaning many can’t get a ride.
Public education is also key.
“From the education aspect I think it’s important to focus on changing men’s behaviour and that starts with young boys.”