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Treat 'Highway of Tears' victims as women first, police told Add to ...

With each discovery of another dead woman found along the so-called Highway of Tears, Gladys Radek relives the pain of the loss of her 22-year-old niece, missing since 2005.

But this time, Ms. Radek's pain is tinged with anger, over the RCMP's statement that a woman's body was found Oct. 8 in a wooded area of Prince George frequented by prostitutes.

For Ms. Radek, that statement - made at a time when there was nothing to link the woman to the sex trade - is another indication of a wrong-headed attitude that she sees as devaluing the lives of aboriginal women. "They should be treating that woman as a woman first," said Ms. Radek , who co-founded Walk 4 Justice to draw attention to the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway running between Prince George and Prince Rupert that has come to be known as the Highway of Tears.

When that body was discovered, police were not able to establish race or age, much less identity, due to advanced decomposition. This weekend, police said they had identified the body, matching fingerprints to Cynthia Frances Maas, an aboriginal woman missing since early September.

Her death bears a number of similarities to those of 18 other women discovered in the past four decades along the stretch of highway. Most of those women were aboriginal, as is Ms. Radek's missing niece, Tamara Chipman, who disappeared Sept. 21, 2005. Many, but not all, of the women worked as prostitutes. However, some - such as Ms. Chipman, a stay-at-home mom - were vulnerable because they were alone on the highway.

There is much speculation, but no proof, that the homicides and disappearances are linked in some way - including that a serial killer is at work.

Ms. Maas's death is not being formally looked at by the special police unit investigating the Highway of Tears, although the team of 30 to 40 officers working on her case have been in communication with that unit, called Project E-Pana.

Ms. Maas was last seen Sept. 10 in Prince George, but wasn't reported missing until two weeks later. An intense search was conducted this month for her and another missing woman, Natasha Lynn Montgomery.

The RCMP say Ms. Maas was slain, although they are providing few details beyond that, withholding the manner of her death and whether her body was moved from somewhere else to the wooded area near LC Gunn Park.

The 35-year-old Prince George woman had worked as a prostitute, but police were not dwelling on that at a weekend press conference. There was no mention that the area where her body was found is a haunt for prostitutes and their clients, nor was there a reference to Ms. Maas's history. "The sole most important thing is that Cynthia is a victim," Corporal Dan Moskaluk said.

In an interview Sunday, Cpl. Moskaluk said the Mounties decided to avoid mention of Ms. Maas's connection to the sex trade out of deference to her family's sensitivities. But he defended the original statement that the site where her body was found is frequented by prostitutes. "It's not indicative of anything, it's a matter that we need to be accurate in our facts," Cpl. Moskaluk said, adding that that fact is "not a secret" in Prince George.

During the press conference, Cpl. Moskaluk warned the public, particularly the most "vulnerable," to be vigilant.

Ms. Radek said she does not believe a single killer is at work along the Highway of Tears, if only because the 40-year span of the homicides would mean a lone killer would have to be operating at an advanced age. But she takes no comfort from her belief that the killings along Highway 16 may be linked by nothing more than geography, and a measure of indifference to the fate of aboriginal women. "That's a lot of brutality, a lot of violence."

 

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