Wednesday, December 16, 2015


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.           

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Latest Barefoot Bandit / Colton Harris-Moore “News”

Long time no write! 

I didn’t want to comment on the latest spate of news stories about Colton and 20th Century Fox, but since almost all of them have factual errors, I figured I’d let you guys know the real story.

First, as anyone who read the book knows, Colton took five planes, not three. And way more than one boat. Not that it’s likely something he’d want to brag on, but let’s keep the record straight.

The first story that appeared in a Seattle paper also stated that Colton was already out of prison and in a halfway house. That is not true. It said he’ll be a free man in March. Not true.

Colton continues to serve his sentence in a Washington State prison. He’s doing as well as can be expected in there, he’s working on a series of productive projects, studying a lot, and looking forward to his future.

The main thrust of the recent articles makes it sound like 20th Century Fox suddenly rushed in to pay Colton’s restitution in return for his movie rights. Not exactly true.

During negotiations of Colton’s plea deals and sentencing back in 2011/early 2012, Fox offered to option his life rights for a movie they planned to make based on my book, which they had already optioned. Colton, who said he’d prefer no movies or books or anything else about him would ever get released, agreed to the Fox deal but only on the condition that the amount they offered was enough to repay all his victims.

No matter what happened, Colton was going to be ordered to repay the victims. Under normal circumstances, that means a convicted criminal serves out his prison term, gets out, hopefully finds some kind of job, and begins making small payments until he covers what’s due. In the case of Colton’s victims, that would have meant waiting at least five years to start seeing any money at all and, unless he got out and found a high-paying job right away, they might not have been fully paid off for another dozen or more years.  

But if he signed with Fox, Colton could start repaying his debt immediately. Fox agreed to the amount, and the federal attorneys drew up a lengthy plea deal that unequivocally states that Colton can never personally profit from anything related to his notoriety as the Barefoot Bandit. He also cannot try to skirt the deal and help, say, a member of his family profit from it. The agreement states that any money collected via deals like the one with Fox would all go to pay restitution. Any money ever collected above and beyond the approximately $1.2 million he owed would go to the government. This deal, as written, follows Colton for the rest of his life.  

Once the plea deal was signed and Colton sentenced, Fox began making option payments—smaller payments that pay down the balance and keep the contract alive—every 18 months. So, his victims started receiving restitution three years ago.

This latest news is because someone leaked the info that Fox had decided to pay off the full balance of their contract with Colton. I don’t know the exact figures, but based on typical option percentages it’s probably a lump between $800,000 and $960,000. Whatever the number is, Fox paid that to the government and it will now be distributed to the victims.

Also, as I reported here some time ago, the judge’s order states that private victims would be paid back before insurance companies. Colton has repeatedly stated his remorse, particularly for the private victims and mom-and-pop shops he stole from here on Orcas Island.

So dem’s the facts. As usual there is the online debate in the comments sections after the stories. Even with the erroneous facts in the recent pieces, the reporters have all still clearly said the money goes to the victims. That hasn’t stopped some commenters from either decrying or cheering that Colton is getting paid. (Yes, the money is paying off Colton’s debts so it does benefit him, but they’re writing as if he’s pocketing the cash). 

The dumbest comment I’ve read online regarding this whole thing came from someone complaining that the US Marshals were being paid off before other victims. Uh, the US Marshals receive the money, yes, but that’s in order to pay it out to the victims.

So the other questions: What does this all mean for the movie? Do we finally know which heartthrob will play Colton? Will Bill Murray agree to play me? Will they ever find a dog cool enough to play Murphy? Will Hollywood make a few minor changes in the story to make it more bankable, such as moving all the action to a South Pacific island where Colton, now a Chinese violin prodigy, will steal submarines instead of airplanes in order to foil a band of international terrorists bent on financing their nefarious deeds by poaching Russian sturgeon and smuggling the caviar into the Middle East?

Um… I don’t know. This is all being held pretty close to the vest down in LA. The Fox payoff could be read as a positive sign that the movie is moving forward. On the other hand, every month or so there’s a movie released based on a true story that happened 10, 50 or 100 years ago (or in the case of the upcoming Heart of the Sea, the event happened almost 200 years ago and the latest book about it, on which the movie is based, came out 15 years ago!).

Unless the story is about someone fighting crime or aliens while wearing ballerina tights, Hollywood seems in no rush to get it to the screen.