The B.C. government has to put more energy into dealing with the tragedy of the Highway of Tears than it does on encouraging the liquefied natural gas sector, a native leader says.
Cheryl Casimer, a member of the political executive of the First Nations Summit, issued that challenge Friday as Premier Christy Clark attended a ceremony to sign a memorandum of understanding with First Nations leaders on ending violence against aboriginal women and girls.
Ms. Casimer gave the Premier credit for showing up at the Chief Joe Mathias Squamish First Nation Centre, and speaking with passion on the issue. But she said tangible action is required on the Highway of Tears. "They need to be doing more than what they're doing with energy development. That seems to be the primary focus of this government now," Ms. Casimer said in an interview following the pomp and speeches of the ceremony.
There are at least 13 proposals at various stages to build plants to super-cool gas from northeastern B.C. so it can be shipped to Asia, and Ms. Clark's government has set a target of having three such facilities running by the end of this decade. The Premier has said the plants would generate tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars for provincial coffers and tens of billions in economic activity.
Ms. Casimer said that if government can find incentives for the LNG sector, it should be able to find the money to pay for enacting the recommendations laid out in the 2012 report of former B.C. attorney-general Wally Oppal on missing and murdered women that would address the Highway of Tears in northern B.C.
The term refers to Highway 16 – a 700-kilometre stretch from Prince Rupert to Prince George. At least 17 women have disappeared from or been slain along the highway and two adjacent highways since 1969. The RCMP has been investigating homicide and missing-person cases, from between 1969 and 2006.
Ms. Clark did not address the Highway of Tears in her remarks, but told reporters in a subsequent news conference that her government has done "significant" work on the Oppal recommendations that will be charted in a report set for release soon.
Among Mr. Oppal's recommendations was a call to improve safety along the highway, prompting a debate about providing bus service so women in the region, many of whom cannot afford cars, do not have to rely on hitchhiking. Critics have said the government is not moving quickly enough.
"We're thinking about how we can make that highway safer … It might not be in exactly the way that the commissioner recommended, but we certainly are looking at ways we can address the problem," Ms. Clark said, adding that the issues can only be properly dealt with by addressing poverty.
The Liberal government says the memorandum comes in the context of a larger commitment to head off violence against all women, including aboriginal women. It includes $400,000 in provincial funds for an initiative to help aboriginal communities deal with violence against women and girls. Only a few months ago, the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence released a three-year, $5.5-million plan – $2 million of which is focused on domestic violence in the aboriginal community.