An increasingly desperate search is underway in a densely wooded area of Cape Breton, as police and members of a Mi’kmaq community are trying to find a teenaged girl who her family says was manipulated into leaving her home a week ago.
The girl, a 14-year-old, left her foster home in Eskasoni, N.S., on Aug. 13 with a 47-year-old man who is believed to be travelling on an all-terrain vehicle.
Members of We’koqma’q First Nation have been critical of the RCMP for their handling of the case – failing to organize an on-the-ground search party, set up road blocks or issue a provincewide Amber Alert, after she was reported missing on Aug. 14.
Nova Scotia RCMP said she left voluntarily and her disappearance does not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert. These alerts are supposed to be reserved for cases where someone is abducted or the victim is in danger of serious physical injury, RCMP Corporal Lisa Croteau said.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters he’s concerned the RCMP would not consider the girl’s disappearance as a possible abduction.
“Regardless of what the potential law may be, talking about a 14-year-old, as a father, I would have major concerns that would be allowed to happen,” Mr. McNeil said.
Public criticism is mounting against the RCMP for not acting with enough urgency to find the teenager. An online petition calling for an Amber Alert into the teen’s disappearance had gathered 13,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. Its organizers said the case was another example of systemic racism against Indigenous women.
“The police have labelled her as a runaway and are doing nothing,” the petition reads. “Far too many Indigenous women go missing every year in Canada – and little to nothing is done by police.”
Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than any other demographic group in Canada – and 16 times more likely to be killed or to disappear than white women, according to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
On Thursday morning, after a tip that the girl and the man may be in the area of Canoe Lake in southeastern Cape Breton, the RCMP issued a localized emergency alert. The force has also issued three news releases about the missing girl since Aug. 14.
The search has intensified in recent days, focusing on an area about 30 kilometres south of Sydney – including the use of RCMP and forestry service helicopters scanning the woods from above, search dogs and officers from multiple police forces.
But many in the 14-year-old’s home community are frustrated and taking matters into their own hands, saying the RCMP still haven’t joined them in searching on foot. A group of volunteers has been stationed on the Canso causeway, the main artery that connects Cape Breton to the rest of Nova Scotia, and handed out posters to people in their vehicles.
Others are searching a remote network of all-terrain vehicle trails, rugged coastline, mountains and woods, vowing to not stop until they find her.
The community’s chief and council are also offering a $5,000 award for the teen’s safe return. The man who police believe the 14-year-old is travelling with was banned from the community in May because he allegedly posed a threat to safety and security.
The man used to be in a relationship with the teen’s mother, according to her family, but does not have custody privileges over the girl. He’s due in provincial court next month on an assault charge and has multiple convictions, including for assault, theft and weapons charges.
“We had to do something on our own to garner attention and make it known to the public that we have a 14-year-old child missing,” Chief Rod Googoo said. “It’s so sad, no one seems to care.”
The girl’s mother, Donna Martin, said she’s angry at what she feels is a slow police response to the case and pleaded with her daughter to return.
“Please come home,” she said, on Facebook. “I just wanna hear your voice babes I really do ... Can you please listen to me [and] come home, I will not let anyone take you from me ever again.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada joined the growing criticism of the RCMP in this case, saying it highlights the failings of police when it comes to the disappearance of Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
“Her community is distraught and confused by the apparent lack of concern on the part of the RCMP,” Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association, said in a statement. “It is time for the police to do everything in their power to find this girl and bring her to safety.”
Cpl. Croteau said the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert exist for a reason and need to be followed. “In order to keep the Amber Alerts effective, it depends on us and everyone in the province that they’re used in cases that meet the criteria.”
Ms. Whitman said such bureaucratic rules should not get in the way of issuing an Amber Alert. She said that the slow response by police fits a pattern when it comes to missing Indigenous girls and women in Canada.
“It is wrong for police to be so unconcerned when an Indigenous girl is gone for a week and her community members are left to search for her by themselves,” she said.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Editors note: The subject’s name and photo have been removed from all articles.
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