The “Highway of Tears” are three connected roadways stretching 750km across British Columbia, from Prince George to Prince Rupert. It is the area where 18 aboriginal women have been found murdered, or are suspected to be missing.
These ongoing and unsolved acts of violence have been traced over a 35-year period: the first body found was 14-year-old Monica Ignas, discovered in 1975. In June 1994, 16-year-old Ramona Wilson was last seen hitchhiking to a friend’s home; her body was found the following April. Other families are left with a desperate lack of leads: Nicole Hoar was hitchhiking to visit her sister in 2002 and eight years later, her family is still waiting to receive any information about her whereabouts. Last October, the decomposed body of Cynthia Frances Maas was found; she had last been seen alive on 10 September. Her remains were identified through the use of a fingerprint comparison, allowing her family to end their search.
Since the discovery of Maas’s body, the media have fixated on the fact that Maas was a sex worker, rather than giving voice to the family and friends mourning her loss. RCMP Staff Sgt Bruce Hulan, who is a member of E-Pana (the taskforce assigned to investigate the missing and murdered women), described the victims as being involved in high-risk activities: “hitchhiking or [involved in] street trade [prostitution].” The continued mention of supposedly “high-risk” behaviour, by both the police and the media, is enough to cause the public to disregard what is happening to these women.
As a result of poverty, racism, sexism, and an inadequate transportation system, these women were left without the basic securities afforded to more privileged Canadians. Indeed, young First Nations women are five times more likely than their Canadian counterparts to die as the result of violence; they have been constructed as a “surplus population”, as can be seen by the high rate of trafficking of aboriginal women and girls in Canada.