Highway of Tears meeting leaves families hopeful for results

Members of communities along highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, attended a symposium held by the B.C. government, Tuesday.

'There wasn't a lot of hope, but that's basically what we have to depend on,' says Brenda Wilson-John

Advocates and families of the women and girls who disappeared along Highway 16 connecting Prince Rupert and Prince George have been calling for public transportation along the route for years. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Community leaders along the Highway of Tears say a government meeting earlier this week was a step in the right direction, but they still need concrete action to make their region safer for women and girls.

Advocates and families of the women and girls who disappeared along the Highway 16 connecting Prince Rupert and Prince George have been calling for public transportation along the route for years.

Tuesday's meeting was one of many in the past few years that have resulted in little meaningful change, critics say.  

But families of the women and girls who vanished on the Highway of Tears say hope is all they have to go on.

"When I left the meeting, there wasn't a lot of hope, but that's basically what we have to depend on," said Brenda Wilson-John, whose sister, Ramona Wilson, went missing along the highway 21 years ago.

"There was nothing set in stone. There wasn't a plan or anything — just [the decision] that they would meet again."

But Wilson-John, Highway of Tears coordinator with Carrier Sekani Family Services, says Tuesday, was a step in the right direction.

About 80 people attended the symposium, including chiefs from First Nations bands along Highway 16, she said.

"There was a lot of collaboration and everybody that was there has an interest in trying to find a solution in how they can make the community safer."

'A strategy which will have very specific actions'

Jennifer Rice, NDP MLA for North Coast attended the symposium, even though she was not invited.

She says that's a clear message the government does not want to hear from its critics.

"I think the obvious [reason] is that I've been a pretty vocal advocate for getting moving on the Highway of Tears and the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry recommendations."

In an interview on CBC Radio One's Daybreak North, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he intends to act on the findings from Tuesday's symposium "as quickly as we possibly can."

"The first step will be for the summary of proceedings to be provided to me from my ministry staff and the First Nations Health Authority, which was the co-sponsor of yesterday's symposium," he said.

"We will be taking that and shaping a strategy which will have very specific actions that I would hope to be in a position to announce very very soon."

Highway of Tears emails

Stone also refuted allegations that his ministry had deleted emails relating to the Highway of Tears case.

"In terms of the suggestion that key records relating to Highway 16 have been deleted, [it] is simply not true," he said.

"All official records, all official documents relating to this file as well as every other file that we work on in the ministry — these records are all kept in the deputy minister's office. They're all there, subject to freedom of information."


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Transportation Minister Todd Stone on the Highway of Tears.

With files from Wanyee Li