APTN National News
As calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women grow, the RCMP have quietly scaled back its investigative unit that probes the infamous Highway of Tears in British Columbia.
The RCMP recently announced a $4.2 million budget cut to their operations in B.C.
But what didn’t immediately make the news was $1.4 million of that will hit its major crime unit – the same unit that investigates the 18 missing and murdered women, many Indigenous, along Highways 16 and 97 in northern B.C.
The budget cuts eliminate 13 investigators, six of which were in the Highway of Tears section, better known as E-PANA.
“At its peak there were roughly 70 investigators working on the project along with support staff,” said the RCMP in a statement to APTN National News first reported by 250 News radio reporter Elaine Meisner in Prince George, B.C. Monday.
The number of RCMP investigators in E-PANA is now at 12, along with support staff.
“While the number of investigators have scaled down, we have the resources necessary to deal with the investigative needs at this time from interviews to forensic analysis. Additional efforts with respect to education and prevention campaigns are also underway, especially in north district, and they have not been impacted by the budget reduction,” the RCMP statement continued.
The RCMP reported in May that nearly 1,200 Indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered between 1982 and 2012. More than 1,000 had been murdered.
Many people, from politicians to the victim’s families have called for a national inquiry into the case but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused saying what’s needed is “action” and not another study.
E-PANA first began in 2005, focusing on three unsolved murders. Soon that number would climb to 18, including Alberta Williams, an Aboriginal woman found murdered along Highway 16, 37 km east of Prince Rupert, B.C.
Williams went missing 25 years ago on Aug. 26, 1989. Her body was found Sept. 16, 1989. She was 26-years old.
“She was a nice young girl, friendly and hard working. I don’t think she ever got in trouble with anybody,” said her uncle Wally Samuel.
Samuel said he doesn’t feel the budget cuts are fair as the family needs closure and feels they’ll take a backseat.
“It should be just as important as anyone else. People still fear and wonder if someone is out there,” he said.
According to Samuel, his niece was out with friends at a bar known at the time as Popeye’s on the night of Aug. 26. The night continued afterwards at a family member’s home, but that is all that he and his wife have been told.
Williams said that family hasn’t told the rest of the family what happened, nor have they revealed what they told the RCMP at the time.
It tore the family apart, he said.
“I am the strong person in the family and that’s why I am able to speak up and talk for them. There’s a lot of anger between the family. It was said she was with other family members but they haven’t told their story to the family,” said Samuel. “(Williams’) mother and father died angry, not knowing.”
The RCMP said they will continue to investigate all unsolved cases for suspects.
“E-PANA continues to investigate possible suspects or persons of interest and have the capacity to expand and respond as needed. We remain committed to investigation and victim’s families in determining what happened to their loved ones,” The RCMP said.