British Columbia

Highway of Tears emails: what happened during those meetings?

Deleted Highway of Tears emails may have been about a series of meetings the Ministry of Transportation held with several northern mayors and First Nations leaders. What was discussed in those meetings?

Local leaders who attended meetings with province about Highway of Tears have mixed feelings

Highway 16 near Prince George. Over the summer of 2014, Ministry of Transportation staff met with numerous communities along the Highway of Tears. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Northern B.C. leaders who attended meetings about improving safety on the Highway of Tears are concerned and puzzled that emails about those meetings may have been deleted in violation of freedom of information regulations.

Over the summer of 2014, 14 meetings were held along the highway, which runs from Prince George to Prince Rupert. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure hosted the meetings, which attendees say were focused on identifying local challenges to safety and finding solutions.

According to some of the people who attended, the meetings were quite productive and ministry staff were attentive to their concerns.

Which raises questions for them about why emails about them would have been deleted.

'She was obviously really moved'

Hazelton Mayor Alice Maitland attended a meeting in her town's community meeting centre on June 27, 2014.

She said ministry staff, led by Assistant Deputy Minister Deborah Bowman, were eager to hear from her and other municipal and First Nations leaders about transportation safety along the Highway of Tears, where at least 18 women have been murdered, many of them indigenous.

"[Bowman] was totally moved by what she found … and she was going to spend about a month travelling along Highway 16 to see what the needs were and what the possibilities were, and she was to do a report," Maitland said.

Maitland says she met Bowman twice later in 2014, and was again assured that a report was coming.

"She was obviously really moved and upset by the people she had met and the conditions she had run into… she was really feeling it quite personally," Maitland said.

But no report ever came to Maitland, and she's never been able to find out why.

"And now to hear there are emails missing is interesting and pretty indicative of how this government deals with things that don't make them look too good," she said.

'I think there's an effort to work on a solution'

Mayor Luke Strimbold of Burns Lake says he met with Deborah Bowman and other ministry staffers after a council meeting at the village office.

A sobering road side sign targets young women near the Hazeltons, just north of the Highway of Tears. Betsy Trumpener/CBC
Like the Hazelton meeting, he said the Burns Lake meeting was about challenges and opportunities for more transportation safety on the Highway of Tears.

"I got the sense they were trying to identify local barriers and were trying to work with people to find solutions," he said. "I think there's an effort to work on a solution for individuals on Highway 16."

He said he found the meeting to be a valuable experience.

Unanswered questions

Chief Terry Teegee found his meeting with ministry staff to be less productive.

He and two other leaders from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council met Bowman and other staffers in Prince George on June 18, 2014.

He was there to advocate for safer, more reliable transportation along Highway 16, as well as a solution to the problem of hitchhiking.

He said he was skeptical about some of the information provided to him at the meeting — including allegations that other First Nations didn't want more shuttle bus service on Highway 16.

"They stated that they met with a lot of other First Nations and it wasn't a priority," he said. "That really took us aback because we're seeing on the Highway of Tears, all over the place, that it was a huge priority."

Teegee says he questions where the Ministry got that information from, and that the Ministry has not followed up with him about that.