RCMP warned B.C. government budget cuts would hamper Highway of Tears probe

VANCOUVER — The RCMP’s highest ranking member in British Columbia warned the provincial government last year that cutting the force’s budget would hamper its ability to investigate missing and murdered women along the so-called Highway of Tears.

VANCOUVER — The RCMP’s highest ranking member in British Columbia warned the provincial government last year that cutting the force’s budget would hamper its ability to investigate missing and murdered women along the so-called Highway of Tears.

The Mounties launched their E-PANA task force in 2006 to determine whether a serial killer was operating along the Highway 16 corridor in the province’s north. It was eventually assigned 18 cases involving women or girls who vanished or were found dead in the region.

The RCMP and the B.C. government confirmed last year that six officers were cut from the E-PANA investigation, which had already seen previous budget reductions.

In the spring, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens — the commanding officer for the province — sent a memo to the province’s director of police services outlining the potential impact of the cuts.

“The termination of funding for project E-PANA would impair the ability to effectively conduct historical homicide investigations within (B.C.),” Callens wrote in the June 4 memo, which was released through a freedom-of-information request.

“At present, the loss of resources in project E-PANA would result in no other Highway of Tears historical homicide investigations being undertaken for the foreseeable future.”

Sgt. Annie Linteau of the RCMP said in a written statement that 12 officers are currently assigned to the investigation, along with support staff. At its height, the investigation had about 70 officers.

“While the number of investigators has been scaled down, we have the resources necessary to deal with the investigative needs at this time,” she wrote.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton did not make herself available for an interview. The ministry said the RCMP was consulted about budget reductions and it’s up to the force to make decisions about how to allocate resources.

A table released through another freedom-of-information request last year indicated the budget for E-PANA fell to $1.8 million for 2012-2013, from about $5 million in previous years.

The first major break in the case happened in 2012, when investigators said they believed a dead American convict was responsible for killing as many as three of the women.

Last December, the Mounties announced murder charges against a 67-year-old Ontario man in the death of 12-year-old Monica Jack, who disappeared from Merritt, B.C., in 1978.

The Highway of Tears case was examined at the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case, known as the missing women inquiry, and commissioner Wally Oppal’s final report made several recommendations to make the area safer. The notorious highway is frequently cited by groups calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

In a version of Callens’ memo marked “draft,” he suggested the budget cuts could have consequences beyond the Highway of Tears investigation.

“There has been significant focus in the media on the investigation, both by the missing women’s inquiry, United Nations groups in Canada and calls for a national inquiry on murdered and missing women,” Callens wrote.

“British Columbia has been able to champion itself as a province that is committed to a serious improvement in these types of investigations. Negative press will create the erosion in public confidence and there will be the loss of best practices.”

The passage is absent from other versions of the memo and it’s not clear whether it made it into the final document. Neither the provincial government nor the RCMP would provide the memo as it was sent.

The Opposition NDP’s public safety critic, Mike Farnworth, called on the Liberal government to reverse cuts to the Highway of Tears investigation.

“I think it’s pretty awful that, given how high profile the Highway of Tears has been, how high profile the issue around the number of murdered and missing aboriginal women in this province has been, that we would see cuts like this,” Farnworth said in an interview.

“They made these cuts at the same time they’re trying to say, ’We take the issue seriously.”’

The Mounties launched their E-PANA task force in 2006 to determine whether a serial killer was operating along the Highway 16 corridor in the province’s north. It was eventually assigned 18 cases involving women or girls who vanished or were found dead in the region.

The RCMP and the B.C. government confirmed last year that six officers were cut from the E-PANA investigation, which had already seen previous budget reductions.

In the spring, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens — the commanding officer for the province — sent a memo to the province’s director of police services outlining the potential impact of the cuts.

“The termination of funding for project E-PANA would impair the ability to effectively conduct historical homicide investigations within (B.C.),” Callens wrote in the June 4 memo, which was released through a freedom-of-information request.

“At present, the loss of resources in project E-PANA would result in no other Highway of Tears historical homicide investigations being undertaken for the foreseeable future.”

Sgt. Annie Linteau of the RCMP said in a written statement that 12 officers are currently assigned to the investigation, along with support staff. At its height, the investigation had about 70 officers.

“While the number of investigators has been scaled down, we have the resources necessary to deal with the investigative needs at this time,” she wrote.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton did not make herself available for an interview. The ministry said the RCMP was consulted about budget reductions and it’s up to the force to make decisions about how to allocate resources.

A table released through another freedom-of-information request last year indicated the budget for E-PANA fell to $1.8 million for 2012-2013, from about $5 million in previous years.

The first major break in the case happened in 2012, when investigators said they believed a dead American convict was responsible for killing as many as three of the women.

Last December, the Mounties announced murder charges against a 67-year-old Ontario man in the death of 12-year-old Monica Jack, who disappeared from Merritt, B.C., in 1978.

The Highway of Tears case was examined at the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case, known as the missing women inquiry, and commissioner Wally Oppal’s final report made several recommendations to make the area safer. The notorious highway is frequently cited by groups calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

In a version of Callens’ memo marked “draft,” he suggested the budget cuts could have consequences beyond the Highway of Tears investigation.

“There has been significant focus in the media on the investigation, both by the missing women’s inquiry, United Nations groups in Canada and calls for a national inquiry on murdered and missing women,” Callens wrote.

“British Columbia has been able to champion itself as a province that is committed to a serious improvement in these types of investigations. Negative press will create the erosion in public confidence and there will be the loss of best practices.”

The passage is absent from other versions of the memo and it’s not clear whether it made it into the final document. Neither the provincial government nor the RCMP would provide the memo as it was sent.

The Opposition NDP’s public safety critic, Mike Farnworth, called on the Liberal government to reverse cuts to the Highway of Tears investigation.

“I think it’s pretty awful that, given how high profile the Highway of Tears has been, how high profile the issue around the number of murdered and missing aboriginal women in this province has been, that we would see cuts like this,” Farnworth said in an interview.

“They made these cuts at the same time they’re trying to say, ’We take the issue seriously.”’

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marcus Golczyk, with Taco Monster, hands food to a customer during Food Truck Drive and Dash in the Westerner Park parking lot in Red Deer Friday afternoon. The drive-thru event will run every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through June. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff
Food Truck Fridays, Food Truck Drive and Dash return in Red Deer

Red Deerians are able to take in a drive-thru food truck experience… Continue reading

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, standing, watches the game during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. The Wild won 5-2. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Tocchet won’t return as coach of Coyotes after 4 seasons

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes and coach Rick Tocchet have mutually… Continue reading

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella shouts at an official after a fight between Columbus Blue Jackets' s Gavin Bayreuther and Florida Panthers' Sam Bennett during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Tortorella out after 6 years as Columbus Blue Jackets coach

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Tortorella is out as coach of the Columbus… Continue reading

Members of the RCAF take part in a Royal Canadian Air Force change of command ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 4, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a longstanding shortage of experienced aviators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
RCAF turns to foreign pilots to help with shortage as commercial aviators stay away

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault chairs a premiers virtual news conference as premiers John Horgan, B.C., Jason Kenney, Alberta, and Scott Moe, Saskatchewan, are seen onscreen, Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Several provinces bring in new restrictions as high COVID-19 case numbers persist

Several provinces are gearing up to tighten public health measures once again… Continue reading

An arrivals and departures information screen is seen at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The chief executive of Atlantic Canada's largest airport is hoping for COVID-19 testing for arriving passengers "sooner rather than later," as an added measure to combat the province's third wave of the virus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Halifax airport CEO hopes for more on-site COVID testing ‘sooner rather than later’

HALIFAX — The chief executive of Atlantic Canada’s largest airport is hoping… Continue reading

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada's vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel's approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

JASPER, Alta. — A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing… Continue reading

The smouldering remains of houses in Slave Lake, Alta., are seen in a May 16, 2011, file photo. The wildfire that is devastating large swaths of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray comes just five years after another blaze destroyed 400 buildings and left 2,000 people homeless in Slave Lake, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
Ten years later: Five things to know about the Slave Lake wildfire

A wildfire burned about one-third of Slave Lake in northern Alberta in… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid races to 100 points this NHL season

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid sprinted to a 100-point NHL season and… Continue reading

Most Read