Murder and racism along the Highway of Tears – By Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun, August 29, 2009

August 31, 2009 at 3:46 pm (Uncategorized)

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Murder

 

With the news that RCMP were searching a property near Prince George for the
remains of Nicole Hoar, there was in that grisly development in the Highway of
Tears investigation something that remained unsaid.
Hoar was an anomaly. She was white.
Of the nine females originally listed by the RCMP as missing along Highway 16
— a list, in retrospect, that now seems laughably small — Hoar was the sole
Caucasian, an Alberta girl who was working as a tree planter in the Prince
George area. She was also, at 25, the eldest of the nine.
The other eight were aboriginal.
Of those eight, four were 15.
When the RCMP expanded the investigation’s area of interest (reacting,
perhaps, to the insistence in the aboriginal community that many more women were
missing), the force began looking at similar cases as far afield as Alberta and
far northern B.C. Another nine names were added to the list in October 2007,
bringing the total to 18.
Aileah Saric-Auger, a high school student from Prince George, became the
youngest victim on the revised list, and the most recent. Aileah was 14, and had
gone missing in February 2006. Her body was found eight days later in a ditch
along Highway 16.
The revised list also expanded the investigation’s time span. The oldest case
now went all the way back to 1969 — Gloria Moody, found dead in Williams Lake.
Forty years would seem to test the limit of “cold case,” in that the chances of
some kind of resolution are now positively frigid. It is this growing distance
between crime and the possibility of punishment that is not only a source of
frustration for the aboriginal community, but evidence to that community of
systemic racism.
In the database of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there are 520
“known” cases of native women going missing or being murdered, and half of those
cases have happened since 2000.
B.C. has the distinction of leading all provinces by a wide margin, with
137.
These murders and disappearances have been going on for decades, however,
including in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and critics have charged that
investigations into them lapsed because of meagre police resources or, worse,
the disinterest of society at large to pursue them. Put more bluntly,
racism.
“When I reported my sister missing,” said Lucy Glaim, of Smithers, who was
once the youth justice worker for the Wet’sewet’en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice
program, “[the RCMP officer] just said something like, ‘She’s just found a party
or something, so give her a couple of days.'”
Those couple of days turned into an eternity: Glaim’s sister, Delphine Nikal,
disappeared on the morning of June 14, 1990, while hitchhiking from Smithers to
a friend’s house in nearby Telkwa. She was never seen again. Glaim had reported
her missing the following morning. Delphine was 16.
Glaim’s niece, Cicilia Anne Nikal, had also disappeared a year earlier, and
was last seen in Smithers near Highway 16. But her name was not included on the
list of 18 because RCMP maintain she was reported missing in
Vancouver.
That scenario was contradicted in the 2006 report that came out of the
Highway of Tears Symposium in Prince George. The symposium came about because
the case file had reached such a critical mass of numbers that it could no
longer be ignored. Police, government and media were forced to take notice. It
was in that report that Cicilia Anne’s name was included, and that she was “last
seen in Smithers near Highway 16.”
There was also this remarkable paragraph in the report’s preamble:
“There is much community speculation and debate on the exact number of women
that have disappeared along Highway 16. . . . Many are saying the number of
missing women, combined with the number of confirmed murdered women, exceeds
30.”
It then goes on to say that “the exact number of missing women has yet to be
determined.”
The exact number? More than 30? The unintended dispassion of those passages
screams out at the reader. If there was the possibility of 30 or more women
going missing in, say, Dunbar, there wouldn’t be a polite “debate” about
numbers. There wouldn’t be a symposium 40 years down the road. There would be
immediate wholesale alarm.
Some 33 recommendations came out of that report, some of which have been
implemented and some not. A key one — the creation of a shuttle bus service
between communities along the highway to remove the need for poor aboriginal
women to resort to hitchhiking — has not been realized. Hitchhiking remains
common. But one recommendation that did see fruition was the creation of a
coordinator for the Highway of Tears program. The coordinator was to act as a
liaison between police, affected families and government.
Mavis Erickson, of the Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George, is
the present coordinator. She is concentrating her efforts, she said, on getting
the provincial government to hold an inquiry into the investigations. She has a
meeting with Attorney-General Mike de Jong in October.
“It’s been 40 years, and we haven’t had an arrest,” Erickson said. “Many
times, we talk to families of women who have been murdered or who have gone
missing, and they don’t know what’s going in on the investigations.
“Hopefully, [an inquiry] will answer some questions.”
pmcmartin@vancouversun.com, 604-605-2905

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