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October 28, 2017 1:27 am

Highway 16 Symposium: Solutions or Re-hash?

Saturday, November 21, 2015 @ 4:27 AM

Prince George, B.C. – The B.C. Transportation Ministry and the First Nations Health Authority are hosting a symposium in Smithers next week to find solutions to the transportation problems along the Highway 16 corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

The 722 kilometre stretch of highway has gained nation-wide notoriety because of the disappearance or murder of at least 18 women and girls, the majority of whom were aboriginal and vanished while hitchhiking, since 1969.  The total number of victims is not known.

Next Tuesday representatives of the 23 First Nations communities along Highway 16 will join municipal and provincial government officials in discussions that “will focus on finding transportation options to address both medical and non-medical travel and support healthy communities”, according to a Transportation Ministry release.  Minister Todd Stone says “this symposium will build on the work we’ve done to date as we continue to engage First Nations to find practical, affordable and sustainable solutions for the communities along the Highway 16 corridor.”

Approximately 300 kilometres of Highway 16, from Bednesti to just west of Houston, falls within the riding of Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, who is also the provincial Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. Rustad says his ministry will not be involved in the symposium, however.  “No, not directly.  This is a transportation issue and although my ministry is connected, and has been working with the Ministry of Transportation, Transportation is trying to look at it around Highway 16 and it’s not directly around what my ministry is, which is Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.”

Asked whether there might not be some intersection of the two ministries on this issue he says “we’ve had involvement with Transportation in terms of contacts and these types of things.  We are engaged with Transportation because some of the goals that they want to try to achieve are similar to some of the goals we’re trying to achieve, things we’re working on with missing and murdered women and aboriginal training and other types of initiatives.  But the symposium isn’t about that per se, so that’s why our ministry isn’t directly engaged in it.”

Rustad says the Smithers symposium is not focused solely on finding a single solution to the issue of safe transportation along Highway 16.  “I wouldn’t call it so much a solution,” he says, “as I would call it a series of things that could potentially benefit the whole corridor.  I mean there isn’t one thing that can be done but there are a number of things that could be done that could help improve things for the corridor, and I think that’s what’s being explored.”

“As they go into this the answer, or the options to look at is not going to be one large provincial program but it’s going to have to be a series of things.  You are not going to see like a Greyhound bus service, but each community has things that they can look at and so the idea is, what is it that communities are doing, what is it that communities need to do, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike that would help with what they are trying to achieve?  And then, what role can the province play, if any, in terms of what some of those ideas are?”

Rustad says safe travel for people, women and girls in particular, along Highway 16 “is part of the discussion.  I’m anticipating what will come from this will be a series of ideas, everything from a full-blown B.C. Transit system to a wide range of other things.”  He mentioned receiving a letter from someone asking whether Via Rail might be able to play a part in helping transportation through the corridor.

There have been similar symposiums and countless meetings and consultations on the Highway 16 transportation issue since 2006.  As well, the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry held seven meetings in the region and made several recommendations, including one that the province develop and implement an enhanced public transit system to provide safer travel between northern communities, particularly along Highway 16.

However Rustad does not support that.  “To be realistic I don’t think it is a viable option to see a full-blown B.C. Transit system, such as you see in the lower mainland, along Highway 16.  You’re talking about 800-plus kilometers of highway with communities very spread out.  It’s not something that could be effective and I don’t think it could work.”

Asked whether a privately-operated bus service might work Rustad says “Greyhound has service that runs along that highway and I know they are very challenged in terms of what hours they travel and trying to make an economic go of it.  I think all options should be looked at at this point but one single comprehensive system probably isn’t what we’re going to need.”

“You look at, for example, First Nations and the busses that they have and the types of things that they need to do may be similar to other communities, but they may also be different.  How do you reflect what those different needs are and how do you try to make something work for all the peoples along Highway 16?  It’s quite a complex issue.”

He says he has received plenty of input on this matter from First Nations representatives.  “I have had meetings with, I think, every nation along Highway 16 on more than one occasion as well as nations that are north and south of the highway.  And First Nation needs, a lot of what they talk about is how do we have an opportunity to participate in training?  How do we have the opportunity to be able to participate in the work force?  Driver’s licences are an issue for us.”

However he says “when you talk to the non-aboriginal community, more of the conversation is around how do seniors get in for doctors appointments for, say, the community of Houston?  They have a number of people who travel to Smithers for various services.  How can we help facilitate that?”

Asked whether safe transportation is not a key in this whole discussion, Rustad says “there’s no question that groups have approached me, whether its nations or advocacy groups, that talk about safe transportation and are concerned about safety along the highway.  I think there’s a number of things that have been done that have improved safety on the highway.  I think that the work the highway group has done around signage and awareness, these types of things, have significantly improved.”

“I travel the highway on a regular basis, I don’t see anywhere close to as many people looking for rides along the highway as there used to be.  Having said that there’s certainly families that have concerns, there’s been issues along the highway historically and that’s why we’re trying to take steps to improve that safety.”

Given that fact the issue has been discussed repeatedly for several years now without significant result, and that a digesting of information presented and possible decision on corrective measures could be months or even years away, Rustad says “I would be disappointed if we were talking years, I think this forum will present some interesting ideas.  They will need a little bit of time to digest the ideas and maybe have a little bit of going back but I’m hopeful that we’ll be seeing some ideas that can come out of this that will be actionable in a short period of time.”


18 hitchhikers in 46 years on 722 kms of highway?

It is illegal to hitchhike in B.C.!

Not illegal to hitchhike in BC, but it is illegal to pick up a hitchhiker.

@cougs79 don’t be spoon fed, check the actual file, there are women from Hope all the way to Prince Rupert on the highway of tears file. Not all the women were hitchhikers, only about half were last seen hitchhiking. Madison Scott from Vanderhoof is now listed as #19. The first victim on the list was last seen in a bar in Williams Lake. The second victim was dropped off at a Ranch between Fort St John and Hudson’s Hope. The third victim on the list disappeared while hitchhiking from Clearwater to Kamloops – listed as a victim of Bobby Jack Fowler that made headlines last year. Etc.

This is an important issue, regardless of numbers. Since this topic is not new, I hope some ideas are generated and a few tried.

It is illegal to hitchhike. Even standing by a road with a packpack is illegal. A simple google will tell you that.
One should put this in prospective and know that we do not live in a perfect world, and that bad things can happen. We as a society can not put measures in place to protect everybody. We can however educate people to for instance, not hitchhike, not go to the bar without a buddy system,or just make safe decisions. Most of this education should come from the parents, and therein lies the problem.


There are a lot of important issues. I for one think that 100 deaths in Alberta per year from Fentanyl is far more critical than this issue. That will be coming to BC in a bigger way soon.

Hi cougs79, I agree the Fentanyl deaths are concerning. I hope you are wrong about our increasing deaths, but you are likely correct. I would like to think we could care about multiple issues at the same time.

Hitchhiking is not illegal. Pickup is illegal. You can see the signs on the side of the road. “No Hitchhiking, Pickup is Illegal”. Look up the BC law.

You are allowed to hitchhike. You are not allowed to pick up a hitchhiker.

@cougs79 it is not illegal to hitchhike in BC. It is illegal to be a pedestrian on schedule 1 highways unless tending to a disabled vehicle which applies to hitchhikers as well. There are 9 Schedule 1 highways in BC and none are in the north, in fact none are north of the Coquihalla. You are allowed to be a pedestrian on designated foot paths and shoulders designated for such use on schedule 1 highways. All other highways there are no laws against hitchhiking, sorry to inform you. Whether or not it should be illegal is another story all together

Section #182 of the Motor Vehicle Act
Section #3 and subsection #3
Illegal to hitchhike !

Read the following link …. legaltree.ca/node/671

Based on that nicely laid out discussion, cougs79’s interpretation is wrong unless it is for schedule 1 highways as slinky indicates.

The act uses the term “roadway” not “highway” in the 182(3)

Roadway is defined in 119(1) as “the portion of the highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, but does not include the shoulder”.

One has to make sure one understands the terminology. Always check definitions of words that are incorporated into law and regs.

“…. a symposium ….to find solutions to the transportation problems along the Highway 16 corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert.”

This is not about the deaths. As a result of the deaths the key issue seems to be trying to solve the soliciting of transport along the road.

Cause? Is there more hitchhiking along that section than other parts of highways in BC and Canada?

If so, why? A large stretch with low income families? Single parent families? High proportion of teenagers?

Hogsback Lake , Madison Scott went missing from ,close to our Place is a long Way of Hwy16, this is a huge Country trying to find someone, is more like looking for that Needle in the Haystack. Lets say a Bus runs on Hwy16, how would you get from Blackwater and Sob Lake Road to it , it’s a very long Walk and this is only one of many very long Side Roads! Go get a Taxi ? we don’t even have that anymore for many Years now!

Greyhound buses already run on a schedule out west. First Nation women still hitchhike even after all the media coverage etc. . Plan your trips around the bus schedule like everyone else does. Problem solved of missing hitch hikers.

Don’t hitch hike..sounds radical, way out there kind of thinking I know..but it would work.

I just saved BC $500,000 a year..

I hear what you’re saying P Val, but the politically correct minority will have none of that.

I agree with Pval however a big part of that problem is that they typically don’t have money for the bus.
Watch the hwys the weekend after govt payday and you will see many hitchhiking along the hwys. the bus schedules and I’m sure the shuttle schedules won’t jive with their schedule.

if each chief was really committed to saving lives then they would be making sure their people had the money to take the bus. Or the chief or another paid band member would drive them.. Time to look inwards to solve this problem.

Better cell phone coverage . Crowd sourcing and government subsidy for UBER or invent a ride share program . Then there would be an app for that . But would greyhound freak out and be in Victoria by morning ? You betcha .

PVal . What’s with the chief thing ? There are farms ,ranches , towns , cities , villages between the reservations . It’s a problem for us all . It also flies in the face of the ” we always get our man ” BS .

Lots of talk from Rustad but no solutions.

There may not be a solution to this problem other than trying to educate people to not hitch hike, and somehow I don’t think that will work.

We have hundreds of miles of road, plus off roads, and lots of small towns, and midsize towns with drinking establishments, etc; People live all over the place and hitch hiking to get to and from places has been a somewhat **normal** thing to do.

The mere fact that picking up hitch hikers is illegal in itself causes problems, because even if you see a young female hitch hiking you do not want to pick her up because A. It is illegal and B. If she was to disappear later you would become a suspect. So people drive by these hitch hikers but don’t pick them up, and this exacerbates the problem.

We have a lot of low income people in North Central BC and a lot of people who don’t own a vehicle or have a drivers license which also contributes to the problem. There are 180,000 individuals and families on welfare in BC and I am sure a large number of them are located along the Highways of North Central BC.

The bus service at best would be twice a day in each direction and during the winter months Via rail runs three days per week in each direction so that is pretty lousy service.

The problem is many miles of highway, many small populated areas, with lots of low income people.

I’m stumped for a solution.

Vile little bigots.

Yes you are stumped pal . You always have a lot to say but never point to a solution . That seems to be the theme of the twofivezero comment section .

Why are they re-hashing this all over again? Were there not recommendations made on this issue already or have they deleted all the files and have to start over? If Government is not willing to put some money forward to try and create some sort of transportation then it is a total waste of time to have these meetings. One thing for sure the Government likes to keep talking but not actually do anything.

Ataloss. Each band has a chief, they dole out the money.. They should be responsible enough with it to make sure their people have the money to take the bus. It takes a village to raise a child..so let the village do just that.

Well done PVal ! You’ve solved a decades old horror . It’s the Chiefs fault for not being there with the money when some one wants to go down the hyway . How the white women disappeared ? Well never mind . They are the minority . Ironic eh ?

this is an important issue, but the solution is not a single bullet. it is how do you get people to understand that all lives matter? it is not just a transportation issue so Rustad is wrong, his portfolio should require him to be involved in the process. Why is he talking while saying it is not his responsibility to be involved in the process. He needs to be there to help bridge the gap.

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