WAS IT RACISM OR OPPORTUNISM?
There are several theories regarding the murders and disappearances of the women and young girls who were hitchhiking along Highway 16 – now referred to as “The Highway of Tears.” The focus has been to warn everyone not to hitchhike. That initiative has been largely successful. But there are still disappearances.
When my brother and I were children, public transportation meant catching a ride in one of the few vehicles that traversed our back-country roads. We never felt the least bit uneasy riding in the back seat of even an unfamiliar automobile.
For many years it was a common occurrence for residents of Stella’ten and Nad’leh to hitchhike to Fraser Lake or Fort Fraser for groceries, pick up their mail and socialize. Very few First Nations people owned vehicles. Although it was illegal to pick up hitchhikers, they were almost always assured of a ride from obliging friends and neighbors.
Leah Patrick, a First Nations elder living in Fort Fraser, continued her hitchhiking excursions until she was well into her nineties. I don’t think Leah ever had any trouble with those who picked her up along the highway.
During the 1960s and early 1970s hitchhiking was a way of life for hordes of young people. One young lady we met boasted she’d travelled back and forth across Canada “on her thumb” several times. It must have been worrisome for parents when their children were on the road. But I’m sure there wasn’t the sense of impending peril that those same parents would be feeling nowadays.
I’m not sure when the mindset developed that First Nations girls who hitchhiked were just looking for free drinks in exchange for sex. Law enforcement officers and even those in the judicial system appeared to agree that this was so. The public perception was of a two-tiered justice system, which allowed white men to get away with a mere slap on the wrist when it came to sexual abuse against First Nations women who hitchhiked.
When the public was first informed about the alarming number of First Nations girls and woman who’d been murdered or missing along the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, the term “racism” was raised as a possible motive for these horrific crimes. It was not until a white woman named Nicole Hoar disappeared while hitchhiking west of Prince George that the realization arose that a serial killer – or killers- was at large and racism was possibly not a factor after all.
Serial killers often have no real motive at all – except satisfying their own perverted desires. They are driven by compulsions that are not possible for the rest of us to understand. Like predatory animals, they patrol our highways, dark streets and back alleys in search of anyone – particularly women and children – who are alone and vulnerable. A few like Clifford Olsen do not even care about the gender of potential victims.
I’ve often wondered about the disappearance of a young man who was last seen travelling the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy. He had picked up a hitch-hiker. They later found his burned-out car in Prince George. Don’t think they ever found his body? And there’s never been a solution to the Jack family that went missing from PG years ago. I think it was a man, wife and two small children who were never found.
I just viewed the documentary “The Disappearance of Madison Scot” (http://vimeo.com/82034871) The agony that Madison’s parents are experiencing is heartbreaking. Their daughter was last seen at a campsite 25kms off Highway 16 in the early morning hours of May 28, 2011. There’d been a party earlier and she was alone.
I understand that everyone – friend, acquaintance or stranger- who’d attended the party was thoroughly investigated by the police. There were transients in the vicinity, whom I understand were also regarded with suspicion. A number of search parties were sent out and the lake was dredged. An RCMP task force was set up and every little bit of evidence was carefully considered. But now, almost three years later, Madison’s parents are no closer to any kind of closure on the disappearance of their daughter.
I’m certain the possibility of Madison’s disappearance fitting into the profile of the many other disappearances of young woman has occurred to the authorities. Women and girls no longer hitchhike along the highway to provide easy pickings for this sick individual. But that does not mean he has overcome his inclinations. We need to keep our eyes and ears open.
And similar to the young man from Fort St James who is presently on trial on charges of four counts of first degree murder, the perpetrator could be the “gentleman-next-door” in personality and appearance.