Canada's 'Highway of Tears"

  1. This report is old but the story is still relevent. Thought you ladies might find it interesting.

    Canada: "Highway of Tears"
    BY Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

    A sign along Highway 16 marks the plight of the missing women.

    Every spring when the snow melts, Sally Gibson organizes a search team to look for her niece, Lana Derrick, who went missing in October 1995. "It's a ritual," she says. Once the weather warms up, Gibson gathers her friends and encourages them to walk the desolate roads behind her house.

    She's not alone. Families all along Canada's Highway 16 -- a 425-mile stretch of road that cuts through pine forests, rivers and remote Indigenous reserves in central British Columbia -- are searching for their missing loved ones. There was Delphine Nikals who went missing in 1990; Ramona Wilson who disappeared in 1994; and last year, Tamara Chipman disappeared.

    The families have dubbed the road the "Highway of Tears," and Amnesty International estimates that 32 aboriginal Canadian women have gone missing in the last three decades along the highway, which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George.

    Gibson, whose niece has been missing for 11 years, refuses to accept that Lana is dead. "She is not dead to us, she is just missing."

    Gibson, whose niece has been missing for 11 years, refuses to accept that Lana is dead. "She is not dead to us, she is just missing," Gibson says. Local police stopped pursuing the case a long time ago.

    With eyes filling with tears, Gibson points to the green trailer where Lana grew up. "We all lived on this reserve together," she says, as it begins to drizzle. She zips up her cotton jacket and offers to give me a tour of her neighborhood.

    As we walk around, it becomes clear that the reserve, similar to Indian reservations in the United States, is very different from other parts of Canada. Here, aboriginal Canadians live in stark poverty. A blue Ford pick-up truck with three of its tires missing is parked next to an abandoned tin boat. A stray dog sniffs through piles of garbage that no one comes to collect. A young girl in denim shorts roller blades past a pile of plastic bags and crushed beer cans.

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    An abandoned car on the aboriginal reserve.

    It's a side of Canada that many don't see. The unemployment rate in this part of British Columbia is more than 90 percent. People here are suspicious of outsiders and feel ignored by the Canadian government.

    When Lana went missing, her family contacted the Canadian police to file a missing person's report. "They gave us 72 hours; after that they said we were on our own," says Gibson. "To us, prejudice is alive and well in Canada, against our people. And every time a young woman goes missing along the highway they ignore it, because it's not one of theirs -- it's an aboriginal girl," she says.

    In October 2004, Amnesty International released a report titled Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada. The report linked high levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls across Canada to deep-rooted marginalization and discrimination. "Not enough is being done to ensure that police forces consistently respond swiftly and effectively when Indigenous families report a missing sister or daughter," the report stated. "And not enough is being done to ensure that Indigenous women and girls are not put in situations of extreme vulnerability in the first place."

    "The problem is that aboriginal women are seen as prostitutes, as dispensable women by Caucasian Canadians," says Lucy Glaim, an aboriginal youth justice advocate. Driving down the desolate highway, I see posters of the missing girls tacked to utility poles. In gas stations, family members have posted pleas to help them find their lost little girls. At the town of Burns Lake, I see a sign that says, "Highway of Tears: In memory of the missing women." Every town seems to have been affected.

    "The problem is that aboriginal women are seen as prostitutes, as dispensable women by Caucasian Canadians," says Lucy Glaim, an aboriginal youth justice advocate. Glaim's sister, Delphine Nikals, went missing in 1995. Her family has not heard of her since.

    Glaim acts as a facilitator between young aboriginal offenders, the tribal elders and the Canadian police. She says the police stereotype aboriginal Canadians and look at them as troublemakers. "If the Canadian police see us as disposable people, how are we going to get the respect of the Caucasian community?" asks Glaim.

    Many of the small towns that dot the highway have their own theories about the missing women. Some say a serial killer is on the loose. Others think it's one of their own, a person who knows the community and the women well. Since the Canadian police routinely have no suspects and make no arrests in connection with the disappearances, the rumors continue to thrive.

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    Correy Millwater, Tamara's mother, holds an early photograph of her daughter who disappeared in 2005.

    "I don't think a serial killer is on the loose," says Glaim. "It's easier for our society to lay the blame on one person, but I believe that there are multiple murderers out there who are racist and are targeting aboriginal women."

    Further down the highway, in the fishing town of Terrace, known for its salmon, Tom Chipman is putting up posters of his 22-year-old daughter Tamara, who went missing in September 2005. Tamara's two-year-old son Jaden walks around with his mother's photograph tucked under his arm. Tamara's mother spent days in the hospital after her daughter's disappearance.

    "I just couldn't look for my baby daughter in ditches and side roads," she tells me. "How can a mother bring herself to do that?"

    Once the posters are up, the Chipmans gather around a makeshift outdoor campfire to discuss their next strategy and to reminisce.

    "Tamara was a headstrong girl, she knew how to defend herself. So whoever took her was strong and knew what he was doing," says Tom Chipman.

    One of Tamara's aunts points out that the Greyhound bus, the only public transportation from Prince Rupert to Prince George, is cutting back on services.

    "Unemployment is high in aboriginal communities, there is a lack of public transportation, and now they are cutting back on the Greyhound bus service. How do they expect people to travel? Not everyone has cars," she says.

    Tom Chipman puts up a missing persons poster of his daughter Tamara at a local gas station.

    Another aunt reveals a secret she has kept hidden from her family. Many years ago, while hitchhiking, she was picked up by a local truck driver who tried to rape her. "He put his hand on my thigh and tried to rip my clothes off," she says. "But I bit his hand and opened the car door and ran as fast as I could. I never reported it because I didn't think the police would do anything about it," she tells the group.

    When I speak with Staff Sgt. John Ford, who handles media relations for the Royal Canadian Police, he tells me relations are good between the aboriginal community and the police.

    "The message we are getting from the families is that they are satisfied with our investigation," he says. "They know we are doing our job to the best we can."

    Ford denies this is a race issue but more the logistics of patrolling such a desolate area. "The area we are talking about is vast, it's rugged; witnesses are non-existent. It's as if these women have vanished into thin air," he says.

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    Reporter Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy talks to Staff Sgt. John Ford.

    While the police make little headway, local private investigator Ray Michalko, a former police officer with the Canadian mounted police, has started his own investigation. He has spent time with the families retracing the last steps of many of the victims. Now, he routinely gets tips from locals who would rather talk to him than go to the police.

    Michalko has driven the stretch of Highway 16 and the numerous back roads that lead into the woods from the highway. "The terrain is difficult; the bodies could be dumped anywhere," he says. "But that's no excuse for not finding out who is behind these murders."

    Despite his ex-cop status, Michalko says the police aren't doing enough. "It takes most people a lot of thought and internalizing to get up the courage to call their local police with a tip," he says. "When they finally do make the call, they need to be made to feel that their call was appreciated and that they are making a difference by calling the police."

    While many families still search for their missing daughters, Matilda Wilson, who lives in the town of Smithers, visits the grave of her daughter Ramona, whose body was found along the highway sexually assaulted and strangled more than 12 years ago. Ramona was 14 when she went missing.

    Matilda Wilson at the graveside of her 14-year-old daughter Ramona.

    "They took the light of my life away from me," Wilson says. "Ramona was a bundle of joy, she made us all laugh, she was so young. Why her?"

    On April 9, 1995, Wilson received a call from the local police. They wanted her to identify her daughter's belongings. The 10-month search had come to an end.

    "Someone asked me that if my daughter had blonde hair and blue eyes, would her killers be found?" says Wilson. "I think they would. Smithers is a small town and the police have to only ask questions and do a little investigation and they will come up with clues."

    Keeping attention on the disappearances, the Chipman family organized a walk from Prince Rupert to Prince George earlier this year to honor all the missing women along the highway. They walked the 425 miles through rain and snow. Family members of other missing women joined in. They walked for 20 days, urging each other to cover 20 miles a day. In every town people cheered them on. They arrived in Prince George on March 30, where a symposium was organized to discuss what families and the police could do to make the highway safer.

    In Smithers, local artists have also put together an art show to commemorate the missing women. Alongside a painted facemask of one of the young women, someone had scribbled:

    I dreamt I held you in my arms, safe and warm
    I woke to tears falling silently.
    My heart is heavy and burdened
    smothered with grief so hard to bear.
    Please return to me and let me gently touch your cheek
    if only in my dreams.

    Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a regular contributor to FRONTLINE/World
  5. oh goodness, that words at the end......:crybaby:
  6. Here's another more recent story from all things, the National Enquirer!


    Audrey Auger will always remember her daughter's last words. "She waved at me, blew a kiss and said: 'I'll be back mom, don't worry. I'll phone you later.' But I never heard from her again.

    "From that night on, I just didn't want to live. I felt like a failure - I wasn't able to protect her."

    The body of her 14-year-old daughter Aielah Saric was found last year, a few months after she disappeared.

    Tom Chipman is still looking for his 22-year-old daughter Tamara, who went missing in 2005.

    Both grieving parents have walked the same road looking for their daughters - the road now known as the Highway of Tears.

    "We're up at six every morning, and we quit at dusk," said the shattered dad. "I don't know how long we can keep going. I guess until the cold weather shuts us down."

    Tamara vanished on an isolated strip of blacktop that has become the world's most dangerous road for women.

    Fading posters of missing females are tacked to utility posts along desolate Highway 16 in Canada, which winds for 450 miles from the Rockies to the Pacific.

    Along this remote highway, 34 women, mostly in their teens and 20s, have been found murdered in the past 30 years. Dozens more have disappeared.

    "Every time we hear of someone else missing, it just brings us so much sorrow because we know what the families are going through," says Matilda Wilson, whose 14-year-old daughter Ramona fell victim to the highway 10 years ago.

    Her body was eventually found by the roadside. She'd been sexually assaulted and strangled.

    Road signs caution young women not to hitchhike and starkly warn: "Killer on the Loose!"

    Police suspect they could be looking for one of the world's worst serial killers - perhaps more than one.

    Pick up the new ENQUIRER for more details.

    Published on: 01/16/2008
  7. Here's a map so you can get an idea where this is occurring; you can see Vancouver near the southern portion of the map. The majority of the murders/disappearances have taken place between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

  8. Oh, my. How horrible is is for people who are not blue eyed and blonde (NO offense to those who are, it's NOT your fault!) to not even get at least some of the same advantages of searches like so many.

    And for Natives... it's even worse. I could tell you stories about the Dine' Reservation (Navajo) along these same lines. Young girls going missing and no-one cares outside their families and maybe the tribal police. But most times, it's NOT a Native who does these things!

    May the Great Spirit bring rest to their souls.