I wanted to take a moment, again, respond to former Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone when he says he’s “correcting” my previous assessment of his work.
First I want to be clear that when you’re appointed the Minister of a Ministry in this country, you’re ultimately responsible for what happens.
He starts by correctly stating that on December 14, 2015 the BC Liberal Government announced a shuttle services after a Nov. 24, 2015, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the First Nations Health Authority co-hosted a transportation symposium in Smithers to engage with First Nations leadership, community members and local government representatives to help identify safe, practical and sustainable transportation options for communities along the Highway 16 corridor. (source)
What former Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and BC Liberal Todd Stone ignores, quite conveniently, is what happened in the years before.
I am going to use YouTube, news reports and ACCESS DENIED: RECORD RETENTION AND DISPOSAL PRACTICES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
I’m going to provide readers with every link and they can come to their own conclusions.
Recommendation #1: That a shuttle bus transportation system be established between each
town and city located along the entire length of Highway 16, defined as the Highway of Tears.
Governing BC Liberals do not heed the call.
November 15, 2012 2344 days later: Former Attorney General Wally Opal releases : FORSAKEN: The Report on Missing Women. In the summary of recommendations, Mr Opal states:
B. Summary of Recommendations
I urge the Provincial Government to commit to these two measures
immediately upon receipt of this report:
1) To provide funding to existing centres that provide emergency
services to women engaged in the sex trade to enable them to
remain open 24 hours per day.
2) To develop and implement an enhanced public transit system
to provide a safer travel option connecting the Northern
communities, particularly along Highway 16.
Governing BC Liberals do not heed the call.
May 14, 2013: The BC General Election Happens and Todd Stone is elected in Kamloops South Thompson.
June 10th 2013: Todd Stone is appointed as Minister of Transportation and Infrastucture.
July 13, 2013:
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice asks Minister of Justice Susan Anton about the recommendations put forward to create a shuttle bus. At 1:15, the Minister punts the ball to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Governing BC Liberals do not heed the call.
May 11, 2014 Vernon Morning Star story Still no plan for B.C.’s Highway of Tears, states in part:
Internal briefing notes also indicate a team of bureaucrats assigned to hold consultations with communities along Highway 16, where women have been disappearing or turning up dead for decades, have put that work on hold for much of the past year. What emerges is a picture of slow progress that appears to contradict the province’s claims that it has been busy holding a “tremendous number” of meetings about the issue with local governments.
May 30th, 2014 North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice again asks for a shuttlebus along the Highway of Tears. Again, the Attorney General rebuffs the request.
June – July 2014: The following is cut and paste from Access Denied pages 18 and 19.
Representatives from MOTI engaged in face-to-face meetings with over 80 community and First Nation leaders. Their goal was to garner a first-hand understanding of existing transportation services and challenges along the Highway 16 corridor from Prince George to Prince Rupert and to provide practical and affordable solutions to these challenges.
The “Highway of Tears” is approximately 720 kilometres along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. Over past decades, a significant number of women have tragically disappeared along this stretch of highway. Many of these women were presumed to be hitchhiking at the time of their disappearance, due to a perceived lack of transportation options. Two senior officials from MOTI, including an Assistant Deputy Minister (“ADM”), conducted the meetings, accompanied by four other MOTI employees. On one day, meetings also included one employee of the Office of the Premier.
November 17, 2014: Parliamentary Secretary Darryl Plecas stated the following in the Legislative Assembly:
“… I’m therefore certain the member will welcome the news that in June and July of this year, staff at the Transportation Ministry travelled along Highway 16 corridor and held face-to-face discussions with over 80 communities. They met with 12 First Nations. They spoke with 13 different municipalities and regional districts.”
November 19, 2014: An applicant submitted an access to information request to
IAO on behalf of MOTI stating: “Pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I request all government records that make reference to the issue of missing women along Highway 16/the Highway of Tears and specifically including records related to meetings held by the ministry on this issue. The time frame for my request is May 15 to November 19, 2014.”
November – December 2014: MOTI located 36 pages of documents that were potentially responsive to the access request. Among these records were briefing notes, various handwritten pages and a document created by the Ministry of Justice. None are released.
December 2014- February 2015 after requesting two time extensions to complete the FOI request on February 20th, 2015: IAO sent a letter to the applicant stating that “no records were located in response to your request.” The applicant responded by email to IAO asking how the request did not produce any records after MOTI took two time extensions.
February 25, 2015: The Official Opposition raised questions in the Legislative Assembly about MOTI producing no documents in response to this access request. On the same date, emails were sent within MOTI about re-processing
the access request.
February 26, 2015, a Prince George Citizen Article with the headline: Opposition crying coverup over Highway of Tears consultation. In the story it says:”NDP MLAs Maureen Karagianis and Jennifer Rice raised the issue Tuesday during question period in the legislature saying they had filed a freedom of information request for the records after Minister Tood Stone had said he had met with about 80 organizations, local governments, First Nations and others to discuss safer transportation options. They filed the request in December [of 2014] when Stone had told a radio talk show host the ministry has heard from First Nations and other local government that a publicly-run bus service along Highway 16 is “probably not practical.”
MLA Jennifer Rice again asks for a shuttlebus along the Highway of Tears and Todd Stone says the government has, among other things, created a portal where people can find transportation options. Rice responds by pointing out the portal offers LIMOSINE services.
March 3, 2015: The applicant made a complaint to my office that MOTI had not fulfilled its duty to “openly, accurately and completely respond” under s. 6(1) of FIPPA. Later that day, IAO released three severed briefing notes to the applicant, most of which were not part of the 36 pages originally identified as responsive.
May 27, 2015: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner received a letter from the former Executive Assistant of Todd Stone dated May 18, 2015 setting out his that Todd Stone’s Ministerial Assistant triple deleted emails related to the Highway of Tears (allegations.)
May 28, 2015: The Official Opposition raised the former Executive Assistant’s allegations in the Legislative Assembly during Question Period.
May 29, 2015: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner writes the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
announcing that we were investigating the allegations regarding the November 19, 2014 access request to MOTI regarding Highway 16/the Highway of Tears.
May 29, 2015 National Post Story with headline: B.C. government destroyed records on Highway of Tears after request to access them, former staffer says “the deleted emails and documents related to how the B.C. government consulted with northern communities and First Nations leaders last year to try to improve safety along the Highway of Tears.”
November 4, 2015 CBC News story with headline New Highway of Tears documents uncover residents’ deep concerns which says, in part: “The minister has continued to tell us for a year there wasn’t a big desire for a bus, that it wasn’t a practical solution,” said Karagianis.” Certainly, looking at the FOI documents on the consultation that we have recently read, that is not true.”
In releasing the 36 pages the Office of the Privacy Commissioner stated:
I believe MOTI took an unreasonably narrow view of the applicant’s request. The
applicant requested records related to a series of meetings that took place in
June and July 2014 along Highway 16. While noting that the meetings were
about “missing women”, the applicant provides a great deal of context to enable
MOTI to identify the meetings referred to by the applicant.
In processing the request, it appears that MOTI fully understood what meetings
the applicant was referring to. Despite the narrow interpretation applied by the
ADM and MOTI’s access to information coordinator, 36 pages of records were
produced. Some of those records referenced “missing women”. In addition,
government’s own internal discussions make the connection between “missing
women” and the lack of “transportation options” regarding the highway. In the
circumstances, the wording of the applicant’s access request should have been
sufficient to consider these 36 pages as responsive.
It is difficult to understand how MOTI could have doubted that the applicant
would be interested in any records relating to these meetings. Nonetheless,
before MOTI made any distinction between the meetings being about
“transportation options” or “missing women”, IAO should have contacted the
applicant to clarify the request. The duty to assist an applicant under s. 6(1) of
FIPPA requires such clarification where appropriate.
Further, prior to MOTI’s ADM making a determination that the 36 pages of
records were not responsive, IAO had informed the applicant that responsive
records existed. MOTI had taken two time extensions in the processing of this
request, including one where IAO told the applicant that handwritten notes
MLA Jennifer Rice asks Todd Stone about his lies.
After being caught, suddenly action happens.
Nov. 24, 2015, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the First Nations Health Authority co-hosted a transportation symposium in Smithers to engage with First Nations leadership, community members and local government representatives to help identify safe, practical and sustainable transportation options for communities along the Highway 16 corridor.
December 14, 2015: B.C. unveils five point action plan for safe transportation options along Highway 16.
March 2016: A CBC News story with the title: Triple delete: Former BC Liberal ministry staffer George Gretes charged in scandal.
January 30, 2017: The first Highway 16 Inter-Community Transit Service starts. New bus services will run six days per week, linking the communities of Smithers and Moricetown, which are about 30 kilometres apart.
3881 days passed from when the original request came through until the first bus made a trip. 1330 days from the date Todd Stone was appointed the Minister responsible.
The buck stops with the minister. He’s right at the top. A lot of obfuscations, delays and bullshit happened and I call again on Todd Stone to apologize to the families and communities along the Highway of Tears for his role as Minister responsible.