Obstruction of Justice: The Search for Truth on Canada's Highway of Tears

Obstruction of Justice: The Search for Truth on Canada's Highway of Tears

by Ray Michalko


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"The Highway of Tears" is a lonely seven hundred kilometer stretch of road that winds through the Coast Mountains wilderness of British Columbia. Over the last four decades nine young women have been murdered or gone missing from this remote highway. All but one were Aboriginal. To date not one case has been solved.

Fueled by frustration with the police's inability to solve any of these crimes, inspired by the belief that someone somewhere knew something, and driven by his inexplicable personal commitment, ex-RCMP turned private eye Ray Michalko embarked on a life altering journey to unlock the secrets of these cases and, in the process, discovered as much about the crimes as he did the reasons they've gone unsolved.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780889955455
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Publication date: 10/15/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,191,501
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ray Michalko is an ex-member of the RCMP who now works as a licensed Private Investigator in British Columbia. Ray has spent over nine years working pro bono on the Highway of Tears cases all the while gaining the trust and respect of victims' families and the scattered communities that have been impacted by these crimes. He lives in Surrey, BC.


The 724-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 connecting the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert on Canada’s West Coast is infamously known as the Highway of Tears. It has been speculated that as many as thirty or more women have been murdered or gone missing on this stretch of highway since 1974, and to date, all their cases remain unsolved. This dreadful reality is so widely known that in his book Don’t Go There, Peter Greenberg, renowned travel writer and editor for NBC and CBS, dubbed Highway 16 “one of his must-miss places in the world.”
I’m a former Mountie who now works as a private investigator, and since December 2005 I have been obsessed with trying to help solve these cases. My inspiration: Helen Betty Osborne, the young Cree woman who, atage19, was abducted and brutally murdered near The Pas, Manitoba in 1971. For some inexplicable reason I had found myself following the RCMP investigation into her death even after I was transferred from Manitoba to British Columbia in 1977. Her murder case was eventually solved in 1987, sixteen years after her tragic death. Along the way, a Manitoba justice inquiry concluded the following: Helen Betty Osborne’s death was fuelled by racism and sexism; she had fallen victim to vicious stereotypes born of ignorance and aggression; racism marred the initial RCMP investigation. The justice inquiry made over 150 recommendations; however, like so many other reports and recommendations involving Canada’s Aboriginal people, most were never acted upon.
Thirty-five years after that murder, two provinces over and 1,800 kilometres west, the RCMP’s prevailing attitude in their Highway of Tears investigation echoed the approach once taken in the Helen Betty Osborne case. Thus, Helen Betty became the inspiration for my Tears investigation.
In 2013, a Human Rights Watch report on Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada noted that the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) had documented 582 cases of murdered and missing women nationally since the 1960s. The NWAC calculated that thirty-nine percent of these cases, or about twenty per year, occurred after 2000, and concluded that if women and girls in the general Canadian population had been murdered or gone missing at the same rate, Canada would have lost 18,000 women and girls since the late 1970s. We now know that the numbers of murdered and missing are much higher than the figure documented in the aforementioned report, because in May 2014, the RCMP acknowledged there were “1,186 police-recorded incidents of Aboriginal homicides and unsolved missing women investigations.”
The report outlines the failure of law enforcement to deal effectively with the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Northern British Columbia, where a Human Rights Watch investigation found a lack of oversight, a lack of accountability for police misconduct, and a failure to protect. This inadequacy on the part of the RCMP has resulted in women and girls having little faith in the very police forces responsible for their own protection.
While it can be said the mistrust is the residual result of Residential Schools, more recent events also contribute greatly to that mistrust. In 2013 Human Rights Watch researchers were told about alleged abuse of women at the hands of the police dating back decades, women not being taken seriously; investigating officers biased against the victims because they were indigenous women and girls. In one interaction with police an indigenous leader who was trying to report a 14-year old girl missing from a group home, was asked why he was calling them and what he expected them to do. Human Rights Watch researchers were told about police officers making a determination about the seriousness of a case depending on whether or not the missing person was a repeat offender, or known to the criminal justice system; and when investigations do occur, victim-blaming by police officers is not uncommon.
Nevertheless, the RCMP responded by suggesting women could come forward with complaints without fear of retaliation, totally ignoring the fact that Indigenous women have no faith in them or our justice system.
Throughout my investigation of the Highway of Tears cases, I’ve met people whose stories are so personal, intimate and intense that they’ve often made me cry, laugh, and feel despairing, disgusted and depressed, all at the same time. My Tears journey has also convinced me that similar injustices are being similarly applied across Canada, on other murdered and missing women’s cases, and it is this belief that has pushed me to bring more public awareness to this incredibly serious problem.
When I began my Tears journey, the RCMP subtly attempted to discourage me by not returning the calls I made requesting information about the murdered and missing women and girls, ignoring me as though I didn’t exist. When that tactic failed, they tried to discredit me. And when that failed, they threatened me with the possible revocation of my private investigator’s licence, eventually threatening in writing to charge me under the Criminal Code of Canada if I continued this investigation.
What the RCMP didn’t realize was that the more they attempted to publicly discourage, discredit and threaten me, the greater my credibility became among people who lived in the northern communities scattered along the Highway of Tears. Many of these individuals I talked to freely identified themselves as having criminal backgrounds, including drug dealing, prostitution and time done in prison for one crime or another. When I started my investigation they saw me as an outsider, an ex-cop who was still one of the boys. Not surprisingly, manyhad experienced ill treatment at the hands of the RCMP. Butthanks to the RCMP’s negative treatment of me, the people along Highway 16 soon started seeing me as one of them. And that’s when they began to help.
Solving the Highway of Tears cases ismy obsession. As a result I have spent thousands of hours of my own time on this pro bono private investigation, conducting open-source research; interviewing countless potential witnesses; engaging in dialogue with the few RCMP investigators who would talk to me; submitting Freedom of Information requests; consulting with documentary film producers; and being involved in dozens of radio and televisioninterviews. Eventually, I became an unofficial expert on the subject.During my investigative journey into several of the cases along the Highway of Tears, I uncovered, accumulated and recorded information from a multitude of sources, information that would have otherwise remained undisclosed to the public, barring an expensive official public inquiry.
Thevast amount of information and knowledge that I’ve gained as a result of thishas resulted inmany interviews by local, national and international media.. Producers have asked for my assistance and I’ve also been asked to appear in a number of documentaries, offers that I have declined to date. Unintentionally, I have also become the “go-to guy” for victims and their families, as a source of free information to help them convince police investigators, who have demonstrated an arrogant lack of interest in investigating their cases, to get motivated to do their jobs.
Obstruction of Justice is in large part an account of what has happened since 2006, when I started investigating the Highway of Tears disappearances and murders. It is my personal account about the missing and murdered womenin northern British Columbia - all but one Aboriginal. It is based on my hundreds of hours of research, dozens of interviews and often unbelievable first hand experiences. All true events that at one time or another have made me laugh, cry, become frustrated, angry and depressed, sometimes all in the same day.
My story is not based on my opinion, although I have some strong ones. Hopefully it will pave the way for readers to make up their own minds about what really happened along the Highway of Tears. It’s also aimed to raise some important questions. Is there a two-tiered system of police investigation, one for Aboriginal women and another for Canada’s general population? Did the RCMP attempt to mislead the general public about their investigations? Did the RCMP investigators of the day believe it was possible to solve some of these cases, and if so, why didn’t they? What, if anything, did and can government do to resolve the problems?

[1] Travel writer pans Hwy. 16 - http://www.pgfreepress.com/travel-writer-pans-hwy-16/ [Accessed 30 Sep 2014]

[2] http://www.amnesty.ca/sites/default/files/amr200122009enstolensistersupdate.pdf [Accessed 20 Mar 2014]

[3] Trinh Theresa Do, CBC News: RCMP confirm report of more than 1,000 murdered aboriginal women. Aboriginal women make up 4 per cent of population, but 16 per cent of all murdered females. Posted: May 02, 2014 8:55 PM ET| Last Updated: May 02, 2014 10:37 PM ET [Recovered 16 Nov 2014]

[4] Human Rights Watch Report: THOSE WHO TAKE US AWAY. Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada (2013)

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