B.C. says action taken on 75 per cent of missing women report recommendations

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VICTORIA - Attorney General Suzanne Anton says British Columbia is a safer place for women compared to when serial killer Robert Pickton was prowling Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

She pointed to a report Thursday that states the Liberal government has taken action on 75 per cent of the recommendations made two years ago after a public inquiry into Pickton's murders.

"I do believe B.C. is a safer place now than it was 15 years ago when these tragedies were unfolding," Anton said. "We do have supports for vulnerable women. There's been very dramatic steps forward."

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing six women and sentenced to life in prison, although he admitted to killing 49 women and the DNA or remains of 33 women were found on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam. Twenty murder charges against Pickton were stayed following his conviction.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Wally Oppal, who headed a public inquiry into the Pickton case, made 63 recommendations in December 2012, including funding a 24-hour centre in the Downtown Eastside for sex workers and starting a transportation service along the so-called Highway of Tears from Prince George to Prince Rupert, where women have gone missing.

Anton said the actions taken by the government since Oppal's report are protecting vulnerable women. They include legislation that police help find missing people sooner.

She said communication and safety improvements along the Highway of Tears continue to be addressed.

At least 17 women, many of them aboriginal, have vanished or been murdered in the area along Highway 16 and the adjacent Highways 97 and 5 since the 1970s. Most of the cases remain unsolved, though investigators don’t believe a single killer is responsible.

Much of the discussion about the Highway of Tears has focused on a lack of affordable transportation connecting isolated communities, which has led some women to resort to hitchhiking.

In 2006, First Nations leaders released a report recommending a shuttle bus along the highway.

Anton said cellphone service along 160 kilometres of the highway has been expanded and programs to better inform people about transportation options in the area have been improved.

But Opposition New Democrat women's critic Maurine Karagianis said the Liberals have stalled on providing a dedicated shuttle bus service for the highway, which was one of Oppal's most urgent recommendations.

"Women are still forced to hitchhike to get to work, to get to the doctor, to get to the social worker, and until that's resolved the government will have failed," she said.

Karagianis said Anton's comments about improvements for women's services face the grim reality that B.C. is in the midst of one of its deadliest years for domestic violence.

So far, there are 20 deaths due to domestic violence in B.C., including 18 women, one man and one child — triple last year's numbers, she said. Another 11 women were seriously injured.

"The reality for women who are fleeing violence is there are very few resources, far too few places to go," Karagianis said. "We are seeing too many women being forced into homelessness, far too many families that are now homeless. That's a disgrace in the 21st Century."

Anton said domestic violence is a deep concern of the government, which has often stated it wants a violence-free B.C. where women and children are safe and women have the supports they require.

"It's top of mind for me," she said. "It's a terrible situation when there is domestic violence. It's terrible for the family. It's terrible for children. It's terrible for communities."

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