British Columbia

Highway of Tears transportation safety plan 'a start'

Community leaders along Highway 16 say, while a $3 million boost to public transportation in the region is a step in the right direction, it won't be enough if the government doesn't also address the systemic issues in First Nations communities.

Any transportation plan in the region needs a long-term funding model, say community leaders

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 Highway 16 say, while a $3 million boost to public transportation in the region is a step in the right direction, it won't be enough if the government doesn't also address the systemic issues in First Nations communities.

A new nine-member advisory board made of local First Nations and municipal leaders will oversee the implementation of the plan in the coming months.

Mary Teegee, director of Carrier-Sekani Family Services, is a member of that advisory board and says the five-point transportation safety plan, announced Monday, "is a start."

"Three million dollars, albeit appreciated, is quite a small sum compared to probably what the actual need is."

The provincial government's transportation safety plan comes after last month's meeting between transportation officials and First Nations leaders in the area to address concerns about the women who have gone missing or been murdered while hitchhiking Highway 16.

The problem with cost-sharing

As part of the plan the B.C. government is putting $1.6 million, on a cost-share basis, toward enhancing transit services.

But Teegee says local municipalities will struggle to raise funds to pay their share.

"The situation with First Nations communities on the reserves — unemployment rate, poverty, lack of housing — all these issues come to mind when we're looking at cost-sharing."  

The government needs to address these systemic issues if the transit safety plan is to be successful, said Teegee.

Jennifer Rice, NDP MLA for North Coast, says even a 67-33 divide in costs, with local municipalities taking on the smaller share, would be a stretch for communities.

"A lot of the communities here up north don't have a tax base. They have a very small tax base to draw upon."

She is also concerned by the government's track record of starting projects without a long-term funding plan.

"Given the propensity for the government to start something and then not to have sustainable action and not to have the money, that is a concern of mine."

Permanent change

Teegee says the transportation safety plan for the Highway of Tears and the federal government's inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women announced last week, needs to be part of a permanent change to end violence against aboriginal women and girls.

"I'm hoping that it will take it one step further, and that there would be a federal act to end violence against aboriginal women and girls. Having that act, at least there would be a line that would be legislated to fund the different activities that need to keep women safe, but also to look at those systemic issues."

An RCMP investigation identified 18 women and girls who went missing or were murdered along Highway 16, or the nearby highways 97 and 5, since 1969.


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Transportation safety plan for Highway of Tears

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