Highway of Tears Symposium
The Highway of Tears Symposium was a meeting held in 2006 by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women from along the Highway of Tears, together with Carrier Sekani Family Services and several other organizations. The symposium aimed to raise public awareness and create a call for action The symposium resulted in the formation of the Highway of Tears Governing Body, which provides direction and support to the work of ending violence towards Indigenous women and communities. The governing body was formed as a result of one of the Highway of Tears Symposium Report Recommendations. The symposium had more than 500 attendees, including service providers, First Nations community members, and victims’ family members. The symposium resulted in 33 recommendations covering four key areas: Victim Prevention, Emergency Readiness, Victim Family Support, and Community Development.
Below are the 33 Reccomendations
That a shuttle bus transportation system be established between each town and city located along the entire length of Highway 16, defined as the Highway of Tears. Except for the Greyhound Bus Line that services the Highway 16 corridor from Prince George to Prince Rupert, (twice a day from Prince George to Prince Rupert, and a once per day return trip), no other public transportation system exists. A shuttle bus transportation system would focus on the pickup and drop off of young female passengers at all First Nation communities, towns and cities located along the entire length of the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. During the spring, summer, fall, and perhaps even winter months of operation, these shuttle buses must also stop and pick-up every young woman they encounter walking or hitchhiking between those First Nation communities, towns, and cities on this Highway. The number of shuttle buses required would be exactly seven (7) to cover the entire 724-kilometre length of the Highway of Tears.
That while the RCMP does a commendable job in patrolling the highway, these patrols can no longer drive past a hitchhiker who fits the victim profile. Any RCMP highway patrol that encounters a hitchhiker, who falls within the victim profile, must stop, conduct a person check, provide the hitchhiker with a highway of tears information pamphlet and a schedule of the shuttle bus between the town and city they are located at. Furthermore, the RCMP patrol should encourage the hitchhiker to wait for the shuttle bus, or next mode of transportation listed under Recommendation #4.
That the RCMP be provided the resources to increase their highway patrols during the hitchhiking season, more specifically increase these patrols along the sections of Highway 16 near First Nation communities, towns and cities. Predator(s) likely patrol these sections of highway, as they are the best sections for opportunity. Increased RCMP presence along these sections of Highway 16 will greatly reduce the number of potential targets (see Recommendation #2) and will visually discourage the predator (s).
That the Greyhound Bus Company’s free ride program be expanded, and target marketed to the population in the Highway 16 corridor who fit the victim profile. The Greyhound Bus Line is the only publicly available highway transportation system that delivers service along the entire length of the Highway of Tears. This company has a free ride program for individuals that cannot afford to pay for their rides, and it is a program that is not widely known to the public. This free ride program can be expanded and marketed specifically to all young women who live along the Highway 16 corridor. Moreover, Greyhound Bus drivers who drive the Prince George to Prince Rupert route must be instructed to stop and pickup any hitchhiker who falls within the victim profile.
That every public sector employee working between Prince George and Prince Rupert be contacted and used as a female hitchhiker detection network. These public sector employees travel the Highway 16 corridor extensively and at all hours of the day and night. Coordination with these public sector employees, to detect and communicate the locations of women hitchhikers using their cell phones, would greatly assist the collective community in its victim prevention efforts.
That a number of safe homes similar to (and possibly including) MCFD and aboriginal social service safe homes be established at strategic locations along the entire length of Highway 16, between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George, British Columbia. In the event that young women are walking or are picked up hitchhiking in the evening or late at night, a safe place to spend the night will be necessary. A network of at least twenty-two safe homes, preferably within visual range of the Highway, needs to be established between Prince Rupert and Prince George. These safe homes can also be used as hitchhiker check-in points. There already are a number of safe homes and emergency shelters established by MCFD and aboriginal social service agencies; these can be used and expanded upon.
That the Rural Crime Watch Program be expanded to include a highway watch component along the full length of the Highway of Tears. In partnership with regional districts, rural community associations and First Nation communities, residents of all houses located within visual range of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert need to be canvassed for support, and provided with a1-800 crisis line number in the event they see a young woman hitchhiking on the highway. Furthermore, that they be requested to watch the hitchhiker and note the description of any vehicle who would stop and pick her up
That a number of emergency phone booths be placed along the highway at strategic locations between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George, British Columbia. The distance between the towns, cities, and First Nation communities exceed 100 km in some places along this highway. There are many stretches of the highway where cellular phones are out of transmission range. Should a potential victim’s car breakdown, a hitchhiker be seen getting into a vehicle, or a car accident be witnessed, it is vital that motorists and hitchhikers have closer access to a form of emergency communication. Telus Mobility should be approached to look into the feasibility of increasing cell phone coverage along the entire length of the highway thus minimizing or eliminating no signal areas.
That a number of billboards and many more posters be placed at strategic locations along the Highway 16 corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. These carefully designed billboards will be used to generate traveling public awareness on the issue of the murdered and missing women, and also contain a 1-800 number for the public to call in tips, potential leads, or even the location of any female hitchhiker they encounter. These billboards will also be viewed by hitchhikers and young women, and thus should also be considered part of a victim prevention campaign. The posters, distributed and posted at every gas station, restaurant, business, and community service center located along the entire length of the Highway of Tears, will accomplish the same objectives as the strategically placed billboards.
hat an annual awareness and prevention campaign be delivered to every elementary school, high school, college, university, and silviculture company located in and between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George prior to the hitchhiking and tree-planting season. The hitchhiking and tree-planting seasons coincide; both commence in the spring. Many of the young aboriginal women who disappeared were hitchhiking during the summer months, and at least three of them were younger than seventeen years old; this means they were of high school student age. April is the month that denotes the end of college and university studies. There is always a mass spring migration, primarily of college and university students, from all areas of Canada to the Highway 16 corridor for employment as tree planters. Nicole Hoar was one such individual. Therefore, all silviculture companies operating in central and north Coast British Columbia should be required to provide Highway of Tears awareness as part of W.C.B mandated health and safety training for their employees
That every First Nation community and First Nation family living in the towns and cities located on or near Highway of Tears be targeted in a more intensive awareness and prevention program. All the Highway of Tears missing or murdered women were aboriginal, except for Nicole Hoar. It is apparent that young Aboriginal women are more likely to place themselves at risk by hitchhiking for reasons listed under the Victim Profile & Situation Analysis section of this report. Furthermore, at least three of the victims were young urban aboriginal women, meaning they lived in a town or city. For these reasons a more intensive (customized) awareness and prevention program must be designed and delivered to these rural First Nation communities and to the urban Aboriginal population that live in the towns and cities located along Highway 16. These ongoing and targeted First Nation rural and urban aboriginal awareness and prevention programs must include the education of parents on the need for travel plans and use of an estimated time of arrival and increased parenting skills workshops that focus on knowing your children. Both of these subjects are essential for a more rapid emergency response in the event a child or youth goes missing.
That aboriginal youth that live in rural First Nations communities and urban aboriginal youth who live in the towns and cities on the Highway of Tears be organized and listened to. There is a growing disconnect between the aboriginal youth and their communities and families. While many of the recommendations listed under this section of the report are targeted at protecting them (within the victim profile), there is absolutely no substitute for having these youth organize themselves so that they can provide voice and direction to any future victim prevention measures directed towards them.
That recreational and social activity programs for rural and urban aboriginal youth be increased in the First Nation communities, towns, and cities located along the Highway of Tears. As stated in the Victim Profile & Situation Analysis section of this report, delivery of recreation and social activities will provide this targeted group of the highway population with opportunities to gather and socialize. If these opportunities to gather and socialize are not provided, aboriginal youth will continue to hangout in high-risk locations in urban centers or hitchhike from rural First Nation communities to locations that provide the recreational and social activities they seek.
That media campaigns be launched on the subject of the murdered and missing women, and contain specific key victim prevention measures targeting young women viewers and readers along the Highway of Tears. These media campaigns must be used at strategic times, with the full input and prior review of the RCMP, victims’ families, and a Highway of Tears community governing body. Use of these media campaigns will greatly assist the community in its efforts to prevent future victims.
That the number, types, and frequency of essential health and social services be increased for direct delivery to the First Nation communities located along the Highway of Tears. As stated in the Victim Profile & Situation Analysis section of this report, many First Nation families and potential victims must travel to the nearest town or city to receive services that they require. Many of these families live at or below the poverty line. To reduce the travel of potential victims, the depth, breadth, and frequency of outreach services to these communities must be increased. Bring these essential outreach services to their communities, rather than have community members travel to service providers in the nearest town or city. A general First Nation community member definition is used, rather than the targeted victim profile definition. The reason for this is if an outreach service is being delivered to a targeted segment of the community that fits the victim profile, it makes practical sense to deliver the same services to other segments of the community while the service is there.
Recommendation # 16:
That the Highway of Tears community governing body undertake the development of an emergency readiness plan. First and foremost, an emergency readiness plan must be developed and the development of this emergency readiness plan must involve the Highway of Tears community governing body who represents the interest and concerns of all First Nation and other communities along the Highway of Tears. This emergency readiness plan must specifically delineate all actions to be undertaken and all services provided by a governing body and the RCMP for the victim’s family and for the missing victim.
That the emergency readiness plan contain specific timelines for the actions of the community emergency readiness teams, commencing from the time a missing person’s report is first received. This emergency readiness plan must set out time lines for all RCMP and community emergency response actions when a potential victim is first reported missing by a parent or family member. These timelines are to be defined in 12-hour increments, starting from the first hour the RCMP receives a report of the missing person victim profile, and are to extend to 72 hours. Coordination and implementation of this emergency readiness plan amongst all First Nations, municipalities, and the RCMP lying between Prince Rupert and Prince George will be essential. In order to enact the emergency readiness plan, creation of local protocols on emergency action between the RCMP and the communities will need to be developed.
That this emergency readiness plan contain a missing person “alert and response” component in the form of community emergency readiness teams. Prince George, Prince Rupert, and all the municipalities in between do not have an alert and response system for missing people. Emergency readiness teams must be created and trained as an essential component of this alert and response system.
That this emergency readiness plan be communicated to an emergency readiness team(s) located in each city, town and First Nation community located along the entire length of the Highway of Tears. Roxanne Thiara, age 15, disappeared in November 1994 from Prince George. Her body was later found just off Highway 16, near the town of Burns Lake. This means she was transported over a 250-kilometre length of Highway 16, through the towns of Vanderhoof, Fort Fraser, Fraser Lake, and past the First Nation communities of Nadleh Whut’en, and Stellat’en. It is therefore essential, that this emergency readiness plan be communicated to all cities, towns and First Nation communities and there be capacity to enact the plan in a simultaneous and coordinated manner along the entire length of the Highway of Tears, regardless of the last known location of the victim who is reported missing.
That to the greatest extent possible, existing and established community resources like Search & Rescue or fire departments be utilized and expanded upon in building each emergency readiness team. These organizations have emergency response procedures and emergency communication systems in place for their members. Wherever present, these emergency response organizations, with the RCMP, should be at the nucleus of every community emergency readiness team.
That there be two contact persons appointed: one acting as the primary contact and one as the backup / secondary contact who would be given authorization by the RCMP to enact the emergency readiness plan in each community, and coordinate predetermined emergency readiness team actions. It is envisioned that the contacts would coordinate the actions of their respective emergency readiness teams with the RCMP in each city, town, and First Nation community located on the Highway of Tears. Most First Nation communities have volunteer fire departments, of which the Fire Chief would be the designed contact person. Special emergency readiness plan enactment procedures may be required, such as a member of the RCMP being at the community prior to the emergency readiness plan being enacted by the primary contact person; however, this would not prevent the appointed contact from assembling the community readiness team for action while the RCMP is on route to that community. Any joint emergency response actions between the RCMP and community emergency response teams must be undertaken within local emergency action protocols established between the RCMP and the community
That a permanent regional First Nation crisis response plan be developed and implemented for First Nation communities and aboriginal families (both urban and rural) experiencing a traumatic event. It is envisioned that this crisis response plan not only include direct and rapid delivery of counselling and support services to Highway of Tears victims’ families specifically, but also include the provision of these services to First Nation families and their communities in general for other traumatic events such as murder, suicide, disappearance, tragic accidents involving permanent loss. Readers of this report must understand that First Nation communities are closely knit, and when a tragic event occurs to a First Nation community member (murder, suicide or disappearance) the event’s impact goes beyond the immediate family. Its effects are felt throughout that entire community. Therefore, this plan must incorporate a crisis response team approach.
That a roster of fully qualified aboriginal mental health therapists, grief counselors, critical incident stress counselors, and other counselors of relevant specialty be developed. While it is acknowledged that the RCMP has a victim services unit, this unit is not sensitive to the traditional, cultural or spiritual needs of aboriginal people. First Nations individuals and aboriginal women specifically will seek support where they feel most comfortable. Therefore, this roster will be comprised of the best aboriginal counsellors and therapists who live and work within the Highway 16 corridor, or if necessary, reside and work in British Columbia.
That an exceptionally qualified First Nation crisis response team be assembled, receive training on their roles, and be ready for deployment to any rural First Nation communities or urban aboriginal families from which a victim disappears. It is envisioned that members of this First Nation crisis response team be strategically assembled from the roster developed under Recommendation #2.
That Aboriginal agencies or First Nation communities qualified to deliver such services, be assigned to provide long-term counselling and support to the families of aboriginal victims, upon their request and direction. It is essential that the transition from short-term emergency counselling to longer-term counselling and support be seamless. At all times, the family’s preferences for a particular long-term counsellor or support agency will be respected. There are a number of established First Nation child and family service agencies located in some of the major towns and city centers along the Highway of Tears. These agencies do provide counselling and support outreach services to rural First Nation communities located along the Highway 16 corridor. Some of the larger First Nation communities not affiliated with an aboriginal child and family service agency may have the capacity to deliver victim counselling and support services themselves. While further research is required on this subject, the above recommendation stands
That the RCMP re-establish and maintain communication with each of the victim’s families. The lack of RCMP communication and contact with the victim’s families was evident before the Highway of Tears Symposium was held. Symposium organizers, wanting to invite each of the victim’s families to the symposium, requested a contact list from the RCMP. This contact list was not current and symposium organizers found it difficult to locate and contact a majority of the victim’s families. The majority of the victim’s families that attended the Highway of Tears Symposium, all of who are aboriginal, voiced concerns over the lack of communication from the RCMP.
That a First Nation advocate be provided to bridge the long-standing communications and awareness gap which exists between the RCMP and First Nation victim’s families. This First Nation advocate would not only work with the RCMP and the aboriginal victims’ families, but would assist the RCMP in bridging the communication and awareness gap that historically exist between the RCMP and the First Nations communities along the highway. This First Nation advocate would also be a constructive conduit for providing feedback awareness to the RCMP on aboriginal issues, sensitivity training, cross-cultural training, and be used as part of the RCMP orientation program for new members of detachments in all the cities and towns located on the Highway 16 corridor. Within this recommendation it is acknowledged that the RCMP has established a number of tripartied agreements with First Nations communities. A First Nation advocate could also be viewed as a resource towards supporting these tri-partied agreements; however, the position’s priority would always be with the victims’ families
Recommendation #28 :
That a Highway of Tears legacy fund be established as one source, among others, to develop and support multi-community, and multi-agency efforts in victim prevention, emergency readiness planning and team response, and victim family counselling and support. This legacy fund would consist of government funding from federal, provincial, and municipal sources; donations from corporate businesses, individuals, and multi-community charity events; and other targeted sources.
That a board of directors (governing body) be established to provide direction and support in all four areas of this Highway of Tears community initiative and manage the legacy fund. Strategically, this board of directors (Highway of Tears community governing body) should represent the interests and concerns of the RCMP, cities and municipalities along Highway 16, rural and urban aboriginal populations along Highway 16, and most importantly, the victims’ families. These are the five major stakeholders of concern for the Highway of Tears missing and murdered women. Other board members can and should be recruited based on interest, skills, and abilities to effect action and positive change. The Highway 16 cities and municipalities should meet and reach an agreement to appoint one representative to the board. District or local aboriginal child and family service organizations would best represent the needs and interests of rural Highway 16 First Nation communities. These agencies should receive consent for representation from their Highway 16 First Nation client communities. Upon receiving consent from the communities, they serve, representatives of these aboriginal agencies should meet and reach an agreement to appoint one representative, on behalf of all Highway 16 First Nation community interests. The Highway 16 urban aboriginal population would be best served and represented in this matter by the network of Native Friendship Centers located in Prince George, Houston, Smithers, Terrace, and Prince Rupert. It is recommended that representatives from each of these five Native Friendship Centers meet and reach an agreement to appoint one representative on behalf of all the Highway 16 urban aboriginal population.
That the board of directors (Highway of Tears community governing body) establish working committees in each city and municipality along the Highway of Tears. Wherever practical, community working committee members should be locally comprised of the five key stakeholders that embody the board of directors (governing body): a local RCMP member, a representative of that city or municipality, a representative of a local or regional aboriginal child and family service agency, a representative of a local Native Friendship Center, a representative of the victims’ families.
That the board of directors hire two coordinators to provide development and support assistance to each Highway of Tears community working committee located along the highway. Due to travel and logistical reasons, it is envisioned that the Highway of Tears be sectioned into two geographic zones. One geographic zone will contain all cities, municipalities, and First Nation communities from Prince George to Houston, BC; the other geographic zone will contain all cities, municipalities, and First Nation communities from Smithers to Prince Rupert, BC. Each coordinator would be assigned one zone.
That the board of directors (Highway of Tears community governing body) report out and be held accountable to the communities and funding bodies at annual Highway of Tears symposiums. The progress on achieving the short and long-term goals contained in this report, and the status of all actions undertaken to achieve these goals, must be reported to each community. Annual audited financial statements of the Highway of Tears legacy fund must also be presented publicly. The annual Highway of Tears Symposium, attended by the victims’ families and all Highway of Tears community stakeholders, is the best forum for ensuring board accountability. These annual symposiums should also provide constructive feedback to the board of directors from the community, thus assisting them to better govern and manage the Highway of Tears initiative. An annual Highway of Tears symposium will accomplish more than ensuring governing body accountability; it was the expressed wish of all the victims’ families that this be an annual event for them to meet and comfort each other in expression of common loss and mutually support each other in their journey toward healing and closure
That the RCMP continue its official investigation or inquiry into the aboriginal community’s assertions on the actual number of missing women. As mentioned in the background section of this report, no one really knows the exact number of missing women. The Take Back the Highway awareness demonstration in Prince Rupert commemorated thirty-two missing women. This ongoing official RCMP investigation should determine the number of missing women and verify their identities. More importantly, this investigation needs to acknowledge the fact that each individual number from nine to possibly thirty-two missing victims is in fact a valued family member’s life that deserves the same respect and attention presented at the Highway of Tears symposium. Whatever the eventual number of missing victims, all remain unsolved, and all of these victims’ families have yet to receive full closure
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