Is a trucker responsible for missing women on Highway of Tears?

August 10, 2009 at 4:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Police investigating the disappearance of missing and murdered women
across this country are being urged to take a long, hard look at the
trucking industry, following an FBI investigation that has linked
serial killings to long-haul truck drivers in the U.S.
It’s a
call that Angela Marie MacDougall is taking across Western Canada — and
one that’s being echoed by an international expert on serial killers.
MacDougall
is the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services in
British Columbia, and she has been touring the Prairie provinces for
the last two weeks, speaking with women’s support groups, sex-trade
workers and relatives left shattered by the disappearance of their
loved ones.
She’s trying to form a coalition to bring forward a
report this fall on the disappearance of women in Canada. Some have
placed the national numbers in the hundreds.
“There is a sickness within our society that grinds down the lives of aboriginal women,” said MacDougall.
It’s
a problem that has plagued the Prairies, with advocacy groups saying
the streets in cities such as Winnipeg are no longer safe — as others
question whether serial killers are to blame.
B.C. police have
the Missing Women’s Task Force; Alberta police have the Project Kare
task force; and Mounties in Manitoba announced last week they will
review decades’ worth of cold cases where the victims were women,
looking for any possible links.
On her tour, MacDougall is taking
with her a report released earlier this year by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, explaining the work done in the U.S. to link truck
drivers to serial killings.
Analysts have compiled a list of more
than 520 homicide victims who have been found along or near highways in
more than 40 states, as well as a list of 200 potential suspects.
“The
suspects are predominantly long-haul truck drivers,” the FBI said this
spring in its report publicizing the Highway Serial Killings initiative.
It
said the victims, many of them drug addicts and prostitutes, are often
picked up at truck stops, sexually assaulted, murdered, then dumped
along a highway.
So far, 10 suspects believed to be responsible for 30 killings are in custody, the FBI said.
The
FBI uses a massive database for violent crimes. A unit of 23 analysts
goes through the system, looking for links among crimes that have been
submitted by state investigators.
Last year, the FBI took the
program online, making it available to law-enforcement agencies across
the U.S. But participation is still voluntary, so much of the agency’s
work is convincing police forces across the country to use the program.
FBI unit chief Michael Harrigan said there’s no systemic problem with the trucking industry.
“It’s an honourable profession,” he told Canwest News Service. “These are a very, very small minority of individuals.”
Still,
MacDougall said the report should serve as a wake-up call in Canada, a
country where there are roughly half a million licensed truckers on the
road.
Thoughts immediately come to mind of the so-called Highway
of Tears, a 700-kilometre stretch of road that runs between Prince
George and Prince Rupert, B.C.
RCMP say 18 women are missing from
the area, while Amnesty International attributes 32 missing persons
cases to the area, all women, most of them aboriginal.
“A truck
driver can pick up a woman in one state and take them to another state
and dump them,” MacDougall said, adding the FBI report shows predators
could find the industry’s working conditions ideal for committing their
crimes.
If long-haul truck drivers are behind any of the
missing-women cases, it would instantly reframe the issue as a
Canada-wide problem, rather than a province-by-province phenomenon.
“It’s
our intention to encourage law enforcement, and encourage the
(trucking) industry to take some responsibility for ensuring women’s
safety,” she said.
“We’re also talking about women who got away
from long-haul truck drivers,” MacDougall said, adding she knows of
eight B.C. women who she said have been attacked, but escaped.
The
RCMP in Manitoba have said there is no evidence to support the theory
that the province’s unsolved homicides are linked, let alone that
truckers are behind any of them.
The RCMP also analyze violent crimes with the help of a database
The
VICLAS database, or Violent Crime Linkage System, is meant to help
officers search for possible serial criminals — including killers.
“All law-enforcement agencies in Canada contribute to this VICLAS,” said Sgt. Line Karpish.
“Right
now, we have no reasons to believe that our homicides are linked to
other cases,” she said, adding: “I’m not going to get into the specific
occupations of those that could be travelling criminals.”
But, if
they haven’t already, Canadian police should at least consider a link
between long-haul truck drivers and the disappearance of women, said
Steven Egger, an associate professor of criminology at the University
of Houston-Clear Lake.
“It’s something they should look at,” said
Egger, author of The Killers Among Us, a exploration of serial murder,
who consulted with the Alberta task force on missing women.
“It’s
something they might want to check with the FBI and check if it has any
fit with what they’re looking at,” Egger said, adding it was very
possible the force has already considered such a scenario.
The group that represents the trucking industry in Canada said it hadn’t heard of the FBI report.
“Like
any population, could there be a serial killer (among) truck drivers?
Sure,” said Doug Switzer, a spokesman for the Canadian Trucking
Alliance. “Who am I to argue with the FBI?”
But he stressed that,
just because there could be killers among the ranks of Canada’s truck
drivers, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the industry
itself.
“It’s not that truck drivers are by nature serial
killers,” said Switzer. “Serial killers are dysfunctional people. . . .
There’s something very wrong with them that makes them serial killers.”
He said he wasn’t aware of his organization being approached about potential serial killers by police.
“There’s no particular efforts that are made within the trucking industry to look for serial killers,” he said.
The
Manitoba RCMP’s decision to review cold cases stretching back to the
1960s has raised speculation that one or more serial killers could be
responsible.
But MacDougall, who has spent two decades working
with abused women, including sex-trade workers, said the truth may be
something less sensational, far more prevalent, and just as dark.
“We
like to think that there’s some abhorrent individual who’s out there
killing women,” she said. “It’s much harder for us as a society to
understand that hatred of women . . . is deeply entrenched in our
society.
“There are men who seek out young aboriginal women to beat and rape and pay them.”


Jessica Yee
Director, Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Chair, First Nations, Inuit, Métis Committee, Canadians for Choice
jessica.j.yee@gmail.com
jyee@nativeyouthsexualhealth.com

http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com

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