Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert has been the focus of political debate about safety and transportation options for remote communities.

B.C. VIEWS: Myths of the Highway of Tears

Media narrative of serial killers on Highway 16 insists more bus service and a national enquiry would solve deep-seated social problems

VICTORIA – The scandal of the week at the B.C. legislature is what could be termed “delete-gate.”

Primarily, it revolves around 36 pages of government emails that the NDP opposition has been trying for a year to get under freedom of information legislation. They relate to a series of meetings between transportation ministry bureaucrats and remote communities along Highway 16, between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

If you want all of the accusations about government secrecy and alleged cover-ups, I invite you to read “Access Denied,” the latest report of the Information and Privacy Commissioner here, and transcripts of question period in the legislature this week.

What you won’t find there is much discussion of the actual problem, which is a shortage of safe and practical transportation options in and out of these communities, most of which are federally funded aboriginal reserves far from the region’s only highway.

What we have seen for decades is a dramatic media narrative about one or more serial killers preying on vulnerable women hitch-hiking along what is now known world-wide as the Highway of Tears.

The Wikipedia entry for Highway of Tears gives a sense of the credibility of this narrative. It begins with the unsolved murder of Gloria Moody, last seen leaving a bar in Williams Lake in 1969. That’s a long way from Highway 16.

Then there was Monica Jack, killed in 1978. DNA technology resulted in a charge finally being laid last year against a known serial rapist. This was even further away, near Merritt, and she was a 12-year-old riding her bike.

Other cases involve street prostitution in and around Prince George, an urban hub for a large aboriginal population similar to Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.

Discussion in Victoria focuses on urban notions of increased transit, in places where existing service may be under-used. Nationally, the narrative is that deep-seated social problems within aboriginal communities would somehow be solved by a lawyer-heavy judicial inquiry that looks only at tragedies involving women.

If you drive Highway 16 today, you will see fading billboards pleading for information on the disappearance of Madison Scott. She was last seen in the early hours of May 28, 2011, after a grad party in the woods outside Vanderhoof. Her truck and tent were still there. Again, nothing to do with hitch-hiking, but at least it was near Highway 16.

Here’s something else you won’t often hear in the Highway of Tears melodrama. There is commercial bus service on Highway 16, although Greyhound reduced frequency in 2013 as it struggles with low ridership and high costs.

BC Transit also operates bus service to some remote communities like Kispiox and Gitsegukla, connecting them south to Smithers. But BC Transit requires local governments and riders to cover about half the cost. Indian Act reserves don’t pay.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has noted that what people in remote communities ask for is a way to get back and forth for shopping and medical appointments.

Yes, shopping is an important need, as those who live in remote areas can tell you. And Northern Health already runs a bus service for remote residents who need medical care.

Rice’s observations at least move us toward practical solutions, although most of her effort seems directed towards political blame.

I hope the infamous 36 pages of emails are eventually released, since they were not deleted but rather excluded from release. They may bring the discussion back to the actual public service issue, which is what realistic transportation options exist for these communities.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Red Cross looking for public support

Organization seeks aid to help victims of this year’s wildfires

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

Third overall in Canada for McLure, B.C. cowboy

McLure junior bull rider, Jake Bradley, finished third overall at the recent… Continue reading

VIDEO: Teen soccer phenomenon Alphonso Davies to visit B.C. kids camp

The 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecap player is one of the youngest players in MLS history

New plan to lift more than two million people past the poverty line

Anti-poverty strategy will aim for 50 per cent cut in low-income rates: source

Liberals scrap lottery system for reuniting immigrants with their parents

Lottery for parent sponsorship to be replaced, more applications to be accepted

Bear kills off-leash dog in B.C. park

There have been nearly 200 pet or livestock and bear encounters so far this year

Trudeau says he won’t apologize to heckler, pledges to call out ‘hate speech’

Prime Minister had accused woman of racism as she shouted about illegal immigration at Quebec rally

Documentary filmed in B.C. nominated in ‘Wildlife Oscars’’

Toad People is the only Canadian film to be nominated in this year’s Panda Wilderness Awards

B.C. man builds 10-foot sign thanking fire responders

Ken Rawson built his “thank u” sign on Saturday as helicopters responded to fires around the province.

PHOTOS: Olympian Patrick Chan helps B.C.’s ‘SuperChefs’ celebrate 10th anniversary

Former figure skater among those at event Friday in Surrey

Most Read