Relatives of women missing or murdered along the Highway of Tears called on Missing Women Commission of Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal for a separate inquiry.
Oppal was in Prince George on Friday for an informal, pre-inquiry public forum. Family members and aboriginal leaders said women in the North died or disappeared under very different circumstances than convicted serial killer Robert Pickton’s victims.
Brenda Wilson said the murder of her sister, Ramona Wilson, in 1994 should not be grouped with Pickton’s victims.
“The majority of the girls that went missing on the Highway of Tears are, in fact, girls – not grown women,” Wilson said. “They have answers. They have a killer behind bars. We have no answers in these cases.”
Ramona was 16 years old when she went missing from Smithers on June 11, 1994.
When Ramona didn’t come home, her family started looking for her at all her friends’ homes, school and part-time jobs.
“We contacted the police and they weren’t very helpful at that time,” Wilson said. “Why did they not send out an Amber Alert? Why did they not start an investigation right away? Our human rights have been violated.”
Ramona’s body was found 10 months later near the Smithers Airport.
Rural aboriginal communities lack the community resources and infrastructure of major centres like Vancouver, she added.
“We do not have the required transportation to keep our community members safe. Please come and see our communities, see what we have to live with,” Wilson said. “Then you’ll understand why there are so many girls missing.”
A tearful Doug Leslie, father of 15-year-old Loren Donn Leslie who was murdered near Vanderhoof in November, said there are families along Highway 16 more unfortunate than his.
“I am luckier than the ones whose loved ones are missing,” Leslie said. “We got our daughter back, as hard as it is, we got our daughter back.”
Sam Moodie said there needs to be more resources for the families of victims. The murder of his sister, Gloria Moodie in October 1969 destroyed his family.
“They did unimaginable things to her,” Moodie said. “My father had to identify her and he didn’t last long, because he couldn’t handle what he saw.”
Moodie said it took him 27 years to finally accept the loss of his sister.
“My entire family, we tried to drown our pain with alcohol. I lost a couple brothers along the way.”
Saik’uz First Nation Chief Jackie Thomas said the commission needs to deliver a practical action plan for change.
“I have three daughters and one son. I don’t want my family to go through what some of those families have gone through, but if you look at the statistics I’m at a high rate of risk,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to see another book on the shelf. I want some action, not just for my community and my children, but for all the victims.”
Oppal said it’s not up to him to set the mandate or determine if there should be two inquiries.
“There has been strong recommendations here for the Highway of Tears to be a second inquiry. If a second inquiry occurs, that has to come from government,” Oppal said. “(But) while some people have called this the Pickton inquiry… we are to embark upon changes in how police conduct investigations.”
Formal hearings in the inquiry are expected to begin in June.