Family of Happy Charles calls for provincial office to help families of missing people
Happy Charles disappeared from the Prince Albert area two years ago last April
Happy Charles disappeared two years ago from Prince Albert, but her family's efforts to find her haven't stopped.
Charles's family is currently in the middle of the second walk in her honour, a trek between Prince Albert and La Ronge designed to raise awareness about her disappearance.
Happy's stepfather, Carson Poitras, said it it is essentially crunch time to find his daughter, as he is getting older and his health is failing.
"We've come to the understanding that we're not going to have a good outcome [with searches for Happy]," Poitras said. "We're going to have to honour our daughter, because she wouldn't want us to be in a cycle of grief."
Poitras said the family is honouring Happy by trying to create a liaison office for families of missing Indigenous people in Sask.
When Happy disappeared, the family didn't know who to turn to or how to get search efforts for her off the ground. They don't want families whose loved ones go missing to be in the same situation.
Poitras suggested the office could include resources that could connect them with the appropriate law enforcement agencies while providing information about police jurisdiction, along with materials like high visibility vests or drag hooks for river searches, and other tools that help search efforts.
One example Poitras provided as to how the office could help families searching for loved ones would be by helping coordinate aerial searches.
Happy's family tried to get one going soon after their daughter disappeared, according to Poitras, but they ran into issues.
By the time aerial searches got underway, foliage had already grown-in and search efforts proved fruitless.
"We can eliminate some of those time barriers in a person conducting a search and I think maybe the success," Poitras said.
Family Information Liaison Units in place
There are some resources available to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
In 2017 the provincial government launched its Family Information Liaison Unit, based in Regina. According to information provided by the Ministry of Justice, office is designed to serve the entire province.
The unit, funded through Justice Canada, connects families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with organizations who can provide information about their loved ones.
It also works with families and communities to assist in navigating the criminal justice system and other agencies that gather information about their loved ones. Families are also connected to agencies that provide support in a "trauma-informed, culturally sensitive manner."
Family coping with 'ups and downs'
The last two years have been an emotional rollercoaster for Happy's family, according to Poitras.
He said Happy's three daughters have struggled with dark periods over the past year.
"They're starting to recover from that now, again, probably because of the walk, but they did have some really dark moments in their lives," Poitras said. "They still need those answers."
He said the Prince Albert Police Service has made the investigation into Happy's investigation a priority and a tip line has been set up to collect information from the public.
Prince Albert Police Service Sgt. Scott Hayes said the tip line was set up early on in the investigation process and it's still monitored to this day.
"We're encouraging the public, if they do have any information, no matter how big or small, to give us a call," Hayes said. "We follow up with every tip we receive."
Poitras said anytime a tip comes in, the family gets hopeful they might finally be coming to the end of their search, but so far, nothing has panned out.
"It's peaks and valleys, you know, you get your hopes up, then you find out otherwise," Poitras said. "We try to keep that to a minimum with transferring that information to [Happy's daughters] because it affects them so much."
Learning from mistakes for a smoother walk
Their search efforts weren't the only learning curve the family had to overcome.
The family is taking a second kick at the can when it comes to raising awareness about Happy's disappearance.
Poitras said he and those who organized the walk are leaning on previous experiences to make their 222-kilometre trek.
He said the group of 12 walkers is tackling the trek as a team, as opposed to having walkers go the entire distance solo.
They had one day of rest on Thursday when they hit Weyakwin, about 83 kilometres away from La Ronge, before continuing on their way.
Regina Charles, Happy's mother and Poitras' wife, participated in events dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Prince Albert that day, according to Poitras.
Last year they timed their journey to finish on Mother's Day.
This year, the walk coincides with Missing Person's Week, a week proclaimed by the Sask. government and designed to raise awareness about people missing in this province and recognizes the work of people involved in missing persons cases.