After years of a whole lot of nothing happening to improve conditions along a deadly stretch of Canada’s Yellowhead Highway, aka “16,” and notoriously known as The Highway of Tears, it looks like there’s finally some governmental action.
Depending on whose figures you go with—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the First Nations’ officials and activists—there have been between 18 and 100-or-so women and girls gone missing or found dead along the 450-mile length of Highway 16 between Prince George and its western terminus at Prince Rupert.
(For full background on the chilling story and the factors that make this lonely road through British Columbia so dangerous, see my Outside magazine piece The Vanishing )
Multiple Canadian inquiries about the disappearances going back more than three years have come up with obvious common-sense solutions to mitigate some of the most important risk factors for women traveling the highway, especially financially strapped First Nations women without their own means of transportation. Now, finally, after the recent change of Canadian federal government and an email scandal related to the issue in the BC Transportation Ministry, comes concrete action in the form of a few Loonies (Canadian dollars) earmarked for the Highway 16 improvements.
Women forced to hitchhike along the highway to get to jobs, visit relatives, collect government checks or just go anywhere have always had among the highest risk of abduction. The lack of convenient, affordable public transport for the economically struggling First Nations people of Northern BC was the glaring problem with the simplest solution. Not that simple means easy. It’s a long highway, and a couple big buses running the road each day wouldn’t solve the problem for people who live in such small, scattered communities.
What’s needed is a tribal transportation system where each of the settlements could have access to its own vans or buses in addition to better access to the province’s regular bus system, BC Transit. And that’s what’s finally happening.
According the CBC, of the $3 million (CAD) that will be spent on a new Highway 16 safety program, about half will go to “extend and enhance” BC Transit so it can better serve these communities. More importantly, $900,000 will be spent over three years to buy vans and to train drivers for provide transport for the most remote First Nations settlements.
Another $500,000 will go toward installing transit shelters and webcams along the highway.
For those following the story of 20-year-old Madison Scott’s tragic disappearance covered in The Vanishing, unfortunately there have been no promising leads. Family, friends, and members of her community in Vanderhoof, BC, continue to search and to hope.