Manitoba

Winnipeg chief says police can do a better job finding missing people

In response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the head of Winnipeg police says Manitoba can do better when it comes to locating people who go missing while travelling within the province.

Danny Smyth recommends changes in response to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry

Police Chief Danny Smyth wants to improve the way Manitoba responds to missing persons cases in the wake of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says Manitoba can and should do a better job of finding people who go missing while travelling within the province.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for changes to how missing persons cases are investigated, including improved co-ordination across government departments, between jurisdictions and among Indigenous communities and police services — and Smyth agrees it's work that needs to be done.

"I think there's an opportunity to do something more on a provincial level so that people don't fall through the cracks when they're travelling," Smyth said Friday.

"I think there's opportunity for us to look at a more centralized method of managing all missing persons for the province."

Thousands of Manitobans have to travel from northern and remote areas to cities for school, doctors appointments and shopping, and sometimes, people are at risk on those trips, Smyth said.

Smyth, who attended the release of the inquiry's final report in Ottawa, said he is open to more integration with RCMP and other police services to improve responses to missing persons cases. 

"We do that very well locally, but where we miss it sometimes is if somebody's in transit," he said.

The Winnipeg Police Service hires full-time civilian co-ordinators to gather information from families about missing people and prepare files for investigators, a model that could be expanded across Manitoba, Smyth suggested.

He also suggested the creation of a task force focused on missing people.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, manager of a Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak unit that supports families affected by MMIWG, welcomed the idea of a provincial task force.

"Especially families in Northern Manitoba, when their loved one goes missing in the south, it's very difficult," she said.

Part of Anderson-Pyrz's work involves helping families navigate law enforcement to ensure photos of their loved ones get out to the public. Families do not always know which police agency to call if a relative goes missing far from home. 

"Those jurisdictional boundaries sometimes can make things difficult and slow the process of finding somebody who is missing," Anderson-Pyrz said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a First Nations non-profit political advocacy organization, is currently developing a guide for families on how to report missing people and help police find their love ones. She expects the guide to be available this summer.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.