The largest city along B.C.'s Highway of Tears is still not getting full hearings as part of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, despite lobbying from local advocates.
The inquiry announced Wednesday it will be hosting "statement gathering" sessions in Prince George from Feb. 5 to 7, in partnership with Carrier Sekani Family Services.
Carrier Sekani Family Services executive director Mary Teegee said while she is glad the sessions are coming to the city, she would rather see full hearings.
"[Prince George] is the start of the Highway of Tears," she said. "It's symbolic, but it's a major hub, for the north, also."
With a population of more than 86,000, greater Prince George is the largest city in Northern B.C. It is also the start of the stretch of Highway 16, widely referred to as the Highway of Tears due to the number of missing women and girls — primarily Indigenous — to go missing or be murdered along it.
Unlike full hearings, commissioners with the MMIWG inquiry do not attend statement gathering sessions.
Instead, members of the inquiry's legal team hold private sessions with families where their words and stories are recorded for later review by commissioners.
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Statement gathering sessions are also closed to the public and media, unlike hearings, which are held in community gathering places and streamed online.
Hearings to wrap before year's end
Penny Kerrigan, the B.C. community liaison with the inquiry, said the sessions are a way to reach as many people as possible while still maintaining the commission's deadline of completing its work by Dec. 31, 2018, as required by the federal government.
"The families tell their truths, and they'll be recorded and reviewed by our commissioners," she said. "It's a way that we can reach all families."
So far the only full hearing to occur in British Columbia was in the community of Smithers, about 370 kilometers northwest of Prince George, in Sept. 2017.
Kerrigan said hearing locations are chosen based on where the inquiry expects they will receive the most participation from families.
Teegee said she is still pushing for a full session in Prince George, especially if the commission is successful in extending its deadline beyond 2018.
"I'm hopeful," she said.