'Highway of Tears': Unsolved Murders of Indigenous Women in Canada

Who found the body? Who wrote the contradictory death certificate? Why didn't anyone investigate her death? Vicki Hill wants answers to these questions. She wants to be rid of the feeling that anyone walking down the street in Prince Rupert could be the murderer. But she is running up against a wall of silence.

Each Result Would Only Produce Uncomfortable Questions

It is a three-day trip from Prince Rupert to Vancouver, where we meet with the private detective Ray Michalko. He was once a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Mounties. Six years ago, the Mounties formed a special commission to look into the Highway 16 cases. They invested $11 million (Canadian) to investigate the murders, but without success.

Michalko is not surprised. "They put 50 people in front of computers and hoped that a serial killer would jump out at them," he says. Data was collected and profiles were created. The only thing that is not being done, Michalko says, is real detective work.

He couldn't stand by and watch anymore, he says. That's why he drives along Highway 16 now, knocking on doors and asking questions. Michalko doubts that the special commission wants to achieve serious results. Each real result would only produce uncomfortable questions.

That's what happened during the trial against Robert Pickton, who was sentenced to life in prison in Vancouver in 2007. When police officers searched for illegal weapons on his pig farm outside Vancouver, they found pieces of clothing belonging to a missing Native prostitute. When police then scoured the farm from top to bottom, they found the remains of 49 Native women.

Pickton made pornographic films of the women and then slaughtered them like the pigs at his farm. But the trial also raised questions about the police and the justice system. How is it possible that his crimes could have gone undiscovered for so long? Why didn't anyone search for the missing women?

There was a public hearing on the Pickton case, and new details about corruption among the Mounties and justice officials emerged on a daily basis. Michalko believes that the special commission was formed so the debacle surrounding the Pickton case didn't extend to the cases from Highway 16.

Michalko believes the situations are similar. In his mind, they both shed light on the dark side of British Columbia. "When you think about the problems up there, you'll go crazy," he says.

'It is Unbearable, How Our People Are Forced to Live' On the route from Prince Rupert to Prince George we pass Moricetown, the reserve where Gladys grew up. Her mother still lives here in one of the prefabricated houses that one can pick up at any home improvement store. The whole reserve is filled with them. The muddy street that connects them is littered with garbage -- TVs, wrecked cars and empty beer cans.

When Gladys' sister Peggy opens the door, a musty smell drifts our way. Peggy, Gladys explains to us later, has spent two years in prison for assaulting a man who was trying to rape her. Her mother is sitting silently on a sofa filled with holes, gazing absent-mindedly. Her hair falls in oily strands from her head, and her blind eye peers eerily around the room.

"It is unbearable, how our people are forced to live," Gladys says, when we turn back onto Highway 16 an hour later.

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