Ramona Lisa Wilson would have celebrated her 16th birthday in 1995. Instead her remains were found by local authorities near the Smithers airport in British Columbia after Wilson disappeared while hitchhiking. In 1994, 15 year-old Roxanne Thiara, a sex trade worker, vanished on the July long weekend and was never heard from again. Her body was discovered a month later discarded in bushes along Highway 16.
Dubbed the “Highway of Tears”, Highway 16 owes its notoriety to its connection with a series of murders and disappearances that occurred along the Prince George-to-Prince Rupert corridor from 1969 to as recent as 2006. Wilson’s and Thiara’s fates were shared by a number of women and – apart from the murder of Wendy Ratte in 1997 in which her husband confessed his complicity – the majority of the cases linked to Highway 16 remain unsolved.
Victims’ friends and family have stood together before to demand action from the provincial government and police authorities. In 2006, advocacy groups and grieving families in Prince George issued a call to action, insisting that greater investigative attention be paid to the decades-long rash of abductions and killings in an effort to put the murders and their victims to rest.
“Justice is what I want,” said Audrey Auger, the mother of 14 year-old Aielah Katherina Saric-Auger, the youngest victim associated with the highway homicides.
Advocates and activists for the victims of the Highway of Tears may now have a reason to be cautiously optimistic about the possibility of greater government involvement in the Highway 16 cases.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, the head of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, raised the prospect early this May of a visit to BC’s northern communities to “hold forums on the missing and murdered women.” While The Source was unable to contact Oppal’s staff for more details about the Commissioner’s declaration, the Commission’s website has issued an appeal for presentations on the impact the Highway 16 murders have on the affected communities.
While the Oppal commission prepares to lay the groundwork for a presumptive extension of the inquiry process to cover the Highway 16 murders, advocacy groups like Walk 4 Justice, a non-profit organisation seeking to increase awareness about missing and murdered women in Canada, continue in their efforts to shed more public light on the issue.
Walk 4 Justice will be holding their 4th annual walking event on June 21, which is National Aboriginal Day (eight of the nine women murdered since the 1990s were of First Nations descent). Walk 4 Justice co-founder Gladys Radek said that the Vancouver-to-Ottawa trek will not only honour the memory of those lost to the Highway of Tears, but also serve as a rallying cry
Missing Women Commission of Inquiry
The Highway of Tears