The northern B.C. stretch of highway that’s become synonymous with the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women will soon have improved cellular service.
On April 7, the province announced the $11.7-million plan to build 12 cellular towers and 252 kilometres of new coverage along Highway 16’s “Highway of Tears.”
It will ensure those in need along the 724-kilometre route between Prince George and Prince Rupert will be able to call for help.
It’s a problem that’s gone unaddressed for years after being a Highway of Tears Symposium 2006 report recommendation to enhance safety for Indigenous women and girls.
Nathan Cullen (now MLA for Stikine) participated in the symposium as the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP at that time.
He was thrilled with the announcement, noting that it will be both an enhancement of safety and a benefit to business.
“I think it’s some of the best money we’ve spent during this whole time,” he said.
“It was just one of those things, are we ever going to get the convergence of the private sector being interested in putting up the towers and the government willing to boost it enough to get it done with most British Columbians having no idea there are parts of the province that don’t have cell phone coverage.
Since 1969, at least 18 women have been murdered or reported missing along the highway, according to RCMP. Of them, 10 were Indigenous women or girls.
“Families and survivors have highlighted the connection between MMIWG and gaps in cellular service along Canadian highways,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Improving cell service along Highway 16 was also urged by a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, launched in 2015.
“It is a critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies along this route,” said Lisa Beare, B.C.’s minister of Citizens’ Services.
Rogers will be given $4.5 million toward the cost of installing infrastructure for cellular coverage in remaining weak-signal areas between Prince Rupert and Smithers. The company plans to cover the rest, breaking ground this spring.
The project will also provide coverage for three rest areas along Highway 16 at Boulder Creek, Basalt Creek and Sanderson Point.
“We must continue to do everything in our power to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls to ensure they are safe to travel anywhere in our province,” said director Barb Ward-Burkitt of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.
The project’s slated completion is in fall 2022.
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