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New plan aims to strengthen safety of indigenous women and girls

The Women's Resource Society in Fort St. John is beginning to lay the building blocks of a new safety plan for indigenous women and girls in the city.
Sylvia Lane and Amanda Trotter of the Fort St. John Women's Resource Society.

The Women's Resource Society in Fort St. John is beginning to lay the building blocks of a new safety plan for indigenous women and girls in the city.

The Law Foundation of BC has granted the society $45,000 to launch the first stage of a three-year plan the society says will identify the risks facing the community, and develop a response plan that prevents emergency response delays when complaints are filed to police. 

"Every study that has come forward, from the Highway of Tears symposium, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Amnesty International, all of that has stated a comprehensive safety plan for a community needs to be implemented in order to look at preventative measures and intervention measures for somebody of aboriginal descent who goes missing," said Sylvia Lane, a poverty law advocate for the society.

The plan was born out of an Amnesty International forum held in the city last November exploring the impacts of resource development on indigenous women in Northeast B.C., Lane said.

With the funding, the society has welcomed Shelly McPhee into the fold as an aboriginal liaison. Her job will be to bring together aboriginal communities, and form a group to develop and oversee the plan alongside first responders and social service providers.  

McPhee has a background in emergency management, including 10 years of work as an emergency preparedness coordinator for Spectra Energy, serving as an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC, and being an active part of the BC Search and Rescue Association, Lane said.

"This initiative is totally driven by aboriginal insight, what the aboriginal community is wanting and needing," Lane said. "The adage is that voices are not heard. We're hoping this will combat that, therefore you don't go three or four months before a report is taken, or someone is reported missing to police."

Response times are key when someone is believed to have gone missing—from identifying whether the person is actually missing, to finding evidence and witnesses when it's determined they are, Lane said. 

"Once it's identified this is something serious, or something we need to address, that then triggers a response from the core team and cuts down the wait time of filing a missing persons report to the RCMP, and then waiting for somebody to investigate and say, 'We can't find her,'" Lane said.

While the plan will be indigenous-focused, it will apply to all women in the city once it's rolled out, Lane said, noting there are 13 women from the region deemed to be missing or murdered.

"That's a very high number for a very small area," said society executive director Amanda Trotter.

Added Lane: "While we can't do anything for the numbers in the past, we're hoping we'll have an impact on the numbers in the future.

The society will continue to pursue funding the support the plan, and hopes it can serve as a model for other communities in B.C.

"We're hoping Fort St. John will be the prototype so that other communities and other cities can then take the plan and implement it in their own communities so that it not only works in Fort St. John, it works in Terrace, it works in Smithers, it works in Salmon Arm," Lane said.

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