British Columbia

Mom's desperate search for missing daughter too common among Vancouver's many missing

Paula Bali continues to search the streets of Vancouver for her 17-year-old daughter Mekayla who went missing from Yorkton, Sask., eight months ago. It's a plight for many families, as Vancouver police say they receive 4,500 missing person files per year.

Vancouver police say 4,500 people reported missing every year; Saskatchewan's Mekayla Bali is one of them

Paula Bali asks a man on Granville Street in Vancouver if he has seen her missing daughter Mekayla Bali, who was last seen at the Yorkton, Sask. bus station on April 12, 2016. Tips have led Bali to Vancouver. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Paula Bali will not be celebrating Christmas this year with her family in Yorkton, Sask. She says there is no room in her life for anything other than finding her missing daughter, Mekayla.

"Right now we don't celebrate birthdays, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. I've done nothing for Christmas because it's just too painful," she said during her fourth visit to the streets of Vancouver in the last eight months.

"I don't feel like there's anything to celebrate right now until I've found out what's happened to my daughter."

Paula Bali's search for missing daughter Mekayla

7 years ago
Duration 0:40
'To think that you don't know where your child is and what has happened to them, it's unbearably painful.'

Mekayla Bali went missing from her hometown on April 12, 2016 and has not been heard from since.

Tips have led her mother to Vancouver's streets, where she puts up posters and asks anyone she sees if they know the whereabouts of the 17-year-old.

Community members from Yorkton, Sask. have raised $25,000 to offer as a reward for tips leading to the discovery of Mekayla Bali, but her mother admits that after eight months of searching, she still has no idea where she is. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"If I don't do it, who's going to do it?" she said. "Police services are so important, but they can't be everywhere all the time. And I feel if I don't continue to present Mekayla's information to the public, how are we ever going to find her?"

Paula Bali believes Mekayla came to Vancouver with someone else who may be influencing her decisions.

"So those are the things, as a mom, that make me feel like Mekayla was not in control of the situation and I don't really know what has happened to her," she said.

"She wasn't a kid who was anxious to leave home. She was a kid who, you know, was a homebody. She didn't party. The sort of child you didn't expect a situation like this to happen to."

Mekayla Bali's case is being handled by RCMP in Saskatchewan, but the Vancouver Police Department is also aware of her mother's search and is helping where it can.

4,500 cases a year

Const. Brian Montague, says the Balis story is much more common than the public realizes. He says the force receives at least 10 new missing person cases every day.

"The reaction we get is usually one of astonishment," he said of the volume of calls — an average of 4,500 every year. "It's a bit of jaw-dropper for most."

'I think we see a little more than 10 every day,' says Cst. Brian Montague of the 4,500 missing person cases the force deals with each year. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The force has eight officers and one civilian member staffing its missing persons unit.

"The staff in our missing persons unit, they're crazy busy," said Montague. "Forty-five hundred missing persons cases every year for eight people is enormous. They're constantly working on something."

As for why people go missing, Montague says it's often a complete mystery. But most do get solved — in fact, more than 99 per cent. Sadly, he says, those that take years to conclude often have tragic results.

"Unfortunately most of these solved cases result in finding someone who's deceased. It's kind of the nature of our business," he said, using the example of Matthew Huszar, who went missing on Dec. 16, 2011 after last being seen at a pub in Vancouver's Gastown.

Despite an exhaustive search by his family and friends and a reward, Huszar was not found until two years later, when his body was pulled from the Quayside Marina in Vancouver. The cause of his death was never determined.

"Missing person cases are always traumatic for families and friends. To not know is extremely difficult for people, the holiday season makes that even more so," said Montague.

That's the situation Paula Bali currently faces. Despite doing everything in her power to find her daughter, with tips coming in daily, she still knows nothing. 

"To think that you don't know where your child is and what has happened to them, it's unbearably painful," she said.

And for those like her, searching for loved ones in Vancouver, there's another, newer fear.

Threat of fentanyl

Although she lived a clean life prior to her disappearance, Bali can't help but wonder if drugs drew Mekayla to Vancouver.

"It's absolutely terrifying, right?" she said of the possibility that her daughter could be among those in the grip of opiod abuse, which has led to a growing number of deaths in B.C., with fentanyl often a contributor.

"Because my concern is that my daughter is not originating from this province and I know that she doesn't have all of her ID with her. I would shudder to think she is a Jane Doe somewhere, right?"

'People don't just disappear, it's impossible, somebody somewhere must have some knowledge of her,' says Paula Bali as she continues her search for her daughter in Vancouver. 'Just finding that right needle in that haystack that's going to provide us with that information.' (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Montague says it's a very real risk and unfortunately not something uncommon with missing persons cases in Vancouver.

"The draw of the bright lights, big city in Vancouver is something that we've been dealing with for decades," he said. "We have people from other communities thinking that living in the city is going to be great.

"They don't usually find what they're looking for, they often find a lot of misery and, with the fentanyl case, that's for sure."