Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lack of action on Highway of Tears signage unacceptable on North coast

The discussions have gone of for too long, and the delay in construction of a sign warning women against hitch hiking along Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears due to its infamy in the death and disappearance of far too many women over the last number of years.

While other communities have been quick to action in regard to the signs of warning, the process for Prince Rupert has dragged on over the years, a situation that both councillor Joy Thorkelson and MLA Gary Coons find unacceptable.

The full story on the issue of the sign and the events that have made such a thing necessary was presented in Tuesday's Daily News as the headline, front page story.

Critics wonder why other communities have sign but Rupert is still left waiting
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Pages one and two

A road sign that raises awareness of the Highway of Tears is needed in Prince Rupert, but it needs to draw attention to the fact there is a killer on the road and not blame the victims.

"The killer is the reason women are dead, not because they are hitchhiking," said Grainne Barthe, Stopping the Violence counsellor with the North Coast Transition Society.

"When we blame the victim, we remove social and political responsibility on the parts of the government and its services and on society as a whole.

"We are all responsible for keeping women and children safe. Therefore in doing so, we need to be asking questions like why are women living in such poverty that they need to hitchhike? Why are aboriginal women completely overrepresented in the number of women who have gone missing on the Highway of Tears? And importantly, what is being done to solve these murders so that at the very least, the families of the dead and missing women can have some form of minimal closure?"

Barthe said that women do not hitchhike because they want to, but rather because they have to.

In larger urban centres such as Vancouver, public transportation is more readily available to cover larger distances. Whereas in rural and northern communities, public transit is only available within towns and not for getting from one town to another.

"A one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Terrace from Rupert is $28," said Barthe. "$28 is a fortune for women in poverty."

It's been over a year since City of Prince Rupert councilor Joy Thorkelson proposed that a sign be erected on the western stretch of Highway 16 near Prince Rupert, similar to signs in Terrace, Kitimat and Smithers.

Thorkelson suggested the city follow that direction and put up a sign to discourage hitchhiking, given the numerous disappearances of young women over the years.

''A number of those young women came from here, worked here or were murdered just out of here," said Thorkelson to fellow councillors in November 2007.

"There's a highway sign now in Kitsukalum," said Thorkelson.

"It would sure be nice to have a highway sign here. We could just probably copy somebody else's board, we don't have to be original. The two boards I have seen are pretty similar."

However, no further action has been taken to put a sign up locally. North Coast MLA Gary Coons has been a strong advocate for government action toward solving the many cases of missing and murdered women in Northwest British Columbia, having attended the Highway of Tears symposium and supported its key recommendations.

"This is a very important issue that needs intervention from both levels of government," said Coons. "If anywhere else had over 500 women gone missing or been murdered there would have been outcries of rage.

"But due to race, inaction has been the order of the day from both the federal and provincial governments."

Coons said in recent meetings in Prince George he and other elected officials had discussions with local First Nations who are concerned that the minimal provincial funding will lead to a total lack of progress in meeting the key recommendations of the symposium, one of which includes warning signs near each affected community.

"We need action," said Coons.

"We need an inquiry to find out what happened, who is responsible, and to prevent any more senseless deaths along the Highway of Tears and elsewhere."

No comments: