British Columbia's Provincial AutoRoute 16, better known as "The Highway of Tears," is both a trucking passage and the winding graveyard of up to 42 Aboriginal women. The RCMP, the chief police force investigating the murders, believes there have been a number of serial killers operating along the highway over the past four decades. However, the Mounties put the official number of women who have been murdered or disappeared near the highway at only 18, a number far lower than the estimates from Aboriginal organizations.
Running west to east through some of the most remote terrain in North America, passing by desolate First Nations reserves and logging towns, the highway has become synonymous with the endemic violence towards Indigenous women in Canada. Indigenous women are five times more likely than any other ethnicity in the country to be raped or murdered. It wasn't until after a caucasian tree planter went missing along the highway that the RCMP finally launched a full-scale investigation. The taskforce, called EPANA, has had its funding cut several times since it was founded in 2005, going from a team of 70 to just 12.
Ray Michalko, a former RCMP member who quit the force, is now looking into the disappearances and murders as a private investigator. He works directly with the families of missing or murdered Indigenous women on his own dime.
Michalko took VICE on a tour of the Highway of Tears and connected us with the families who have turned to him after sometimes decades of stalled police investigations.