Facts About Canada's 'Highway Of Tears'

Since 1969, dozens of women have disappeared or been killed along Highway 16, a roughly 450-mile stretch of road in British Columbia. The area has been dubbed the “Highway of Tears” due to the tragedies that have taken place there. 

Despite the number of women who have gone missing or died near the highway, only a handful of people have been convicted or even charged for the Highway of Tears murders. Although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has set up a special task force to investigate the cases, families of and advocates for the victims say that the overwhelming number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) account for the lack of closed cases and slow investigations.

To date, RCMP maintains that the Highway of Tears murders occurred between 1969 and 2006, but some believe that many more women should be considered victims, with cases occurring as recently as 2021.

  • Murders And Disappearances Have Occurred Along The Highway 16 Corridor For Over 50 Years

    All the victims involved in the RCMP's Highway of Tears investigation were women who disappeared on or near the 450-mile stretch of road known as Highway 16. The youngest victim was 12-year-old Monica Jack, murdered in 1978, but the initial tragedies and disappearances date back to 1969 with the murder of 26-year-old Gloria Moody.

    Many of the victims were reportedly hitchhikers, and law enforcement has officially classified them as missing because their bodies have never been found.

  • Most Of The Cases Involve Indigenous Women

    Indigenous women account for more than half of all victims considered by police to be associated with the Highway of Tears killings. Many people believe that these women became targets of crime due to their socioeconomic circumstances. 

    Indigenous women in British Columbia were reported to be especially vulnerable to these attacks because many of them did not have access to a vehicle or public transportation. A lack of transit options in the rural areas surrounding Highway 16 subsequently led to women hitchhiking.

  • A Task Force Was Organized To Investigate The Cases

    In 2005, the RCMP set up a task team called Project E-PANA to investigate the killings along the Highway of Tears. According to the RCMP website, Pana is "an Inuit word describing the spirit goddess that looks after the souls just before they go to heaven or were reincarnated." E-PANA was initially tasked with investigating nine cases linked to Highway 16, but that number quickly doubled to 18.

    Around 60 detectives and police officers were on the project until 2014, when less than 20 active members remained.

    In 2014, Staff-Sgt. Wayne Clary, who led E-PANA, explained the project's scope:

    It has scaled down because we've pounded through a lot of work, but there's still enough work in front of us to keep going. There's more than one investigation where we have strong suspects or persons of interest, and we're clearly focusing on those. I'd like nothing more than to sit down with the families and say, "We've got the guy."

  • There Could Be Over 40 Victims

    The RCMP found 18 victims during its investigation into the Highway of Tears murders. However, local groups and charities estimate that far more women have gone missing in the surrounding area. Speaking with The New York Times, Gladys Radek, who co-founded advocacy group Tears4Justice, stated, "When it comes to the missing, racism runs deep."

    Community activists believe more than 40 women have gone missing on the highway.

  • Racism Likely Hindered Many Of The Investigations

    Families of and advocates for the victims of the Highway of Tears have stated that systematic racism undermined the investigations. According to these statements, police did not properly examine the Indigenous women's deaths, instead concluding that they died by suicide or from a drug overdose.

    United Nations report concluded that in terms of violent assault, "young aboriginal women are five times more likely [to die] than other Canadian women of the same age."

  • The First Conviction Related To The Highway Of Tears Occurred In 1987

    In 1987, serial killer Edward Dennis Isaac was sentenced to life in prison for the 1981 murder of 13-year-old Roswith Fuchsbichler. Isaac had previously been convicted for manslaughter in the 1982 killing of 15-year-old Nina Marie Joseph. In 1988, he was charged with murdering 36-year-old Jean Mary Kovacs back in October of 1981. 

    Reportedly, Isaac was convicted in part because of testimony from his ex-girlfriend, who had helped him hide Joseph's body.