Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert has been the focus of political debate about safety and transportation options for remote communities.

B.C. VIEWS: Myths of the Highway of Tears

Media narrative of serial killers on Highway 16 insists more bus service and a national enquiry would solve deep-seated social problems

VICTORIA – The scandal of the week at the B.C. legislature is what could be termed “delete-gate.”

Primarily, it revolves around 36 pages of government emails that the NDP opposition has been trying for a year to get under freedom of information legislation. They relate to a series of meetings between transportation ministry bureaucrats and remote communities along Highway 16, between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

If you want all of the accusations about government secrecy and alleged cover-ups, I invite you to read “Access Denied,” the latest report of the Information and Privacy Commissioner here, and transcripts of question period in the legislature this week.

What you won’t find there is much discussion of the actual problem, which is a shortage of safe and practical transportation options in and out of these communities, most of which are federally funded aboriginal reserves far from the region’s only highway.

What we have seen for decades is a dramatic media narrative about one or more serial killers preying on vulnerable women hitch-hiking along what is now known world-wide as the Highway of Tears.

The Wikipedia entry for Highway of Tears gives a sense of the credibility of this narrative. It begins with the unsolved murder of Gloria Moody, last seen leaving a bar in Williams Lake in 1969. That’s a long way from Highway 16.

Then there was Monica Jack, killed in 1978. DNA technology resulted in a charge finally being laid last year against a known serial rapist. This was even further away, near Merritt, and she was a 12-year-old riding her bike.

Other cases involve street prostitution in and around Prince George, an urban hub for a large aboriginal population similar to Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.

Discussion in Victoria focuses on urban notions of increased transit, in places where existing service may be under-used. Nationally, the narrative is that deep-seated social problems within aboriginal communities would somehow be solved by a lawyer-heavy judicial inquiry that looks only at tragedies involving women.

If you drive Highway 16 today, you will see fading billboards pleading for information on the disappearance of Madison Scott. She was last seen in the early hours of May 28, 2011, after a grad party in the woods outside Vanderhoof. Her truck and tent were still there. Again, nothing to do with hitch-hiking, but at least it was near Highway 16.

Here’s something else you won’t often hear in the Highway of Tears melodrama. There is commercial bus service on Highway 16, although Greyhound reduced frequency in 2013 as it struggles with low ridership and high costs.

BC Transit also operates bus service to some remote communities like Kispiox and Gitsegukla, connecting them south to Smithers. But BC Transit requires local governments and riders to cover about half the cost. Indian Act reserves don’t pay.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has noted that what people in remote communities ask for is a way to get back and forth for shopping and medical appointments.

Yes, shopping is an important need, as those who live in remote areas can tell you. And Northern Health already runs a bus service for remote residents who need medical care.

Rice’s observations at least move us toward practical solutions, although most of her effort seems directed towards political blame.

I hope the infamous 36 pages of emails are eventually released, since they were not deleted but rather excluded from release. They may bring the discussion back to the actual public service issue, which is what realistic transportation options exist for these communities.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Norm Scott, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch no. 91 in Lanford, pins the first poppy to launch the annual Poppy Campaign on George Baker, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1953 to 1989. Baker said it was an honour to be chosen for something so significant for veterans everywhere. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
Poppy campaign launches in Langford with pinning ceremony

The poppy campaign is officially underway with the first of the pins… Continue reading

Police are looking to identify suspects in an Oct. 10 report of mischief in at a construction site in the 2800-block of Peatt Road in Langford. (West Shore RCMP handout)
West Shore RCMP seeks suspects after trio spray paints Langford construction site

Three individuals caught on camera hopping a fence on Peatt Road

Victoria police are asking for help locating 14-year-old, high-risk missing youth, Anabella Lilly. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police seek help locating high-risk missing youth

Police say the circumstances under which 14-year-old Anabella Lilly went missing are ‘high-risk’

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Reader’s Lens
A pileated woodpecker looks for a quick meal on a cedar spike in this picture taken by East Sooke resident Armin Sielopp. To submit a photo to Reader’s Lens, please email editor@sookenewsmirror.com. (Contributed photo)
Reader’s Lens

This week’s reader photo

Most Read