Changing the way we look at missing people

By Taylor MacPherson
November 7, 2017 - 5:24pm

Missing person cases must be viewed as a wide-reaching social issue in order for the problem to improve, according to those who work on the front lines.

Insp. Roberta McKale, who supervises RCMP missing person investigations in northern Saskatchewan, said many of the biggest advances in missing person investigations have resulted from the public beginning to treat the problem as an issue affecting society as a whole. The wide-reaching public response when a person is reported missing is extremely helpful, she said, and simply did not exist as recently as 10 years ago. The Amber Alert system and the creation of victim services units also resulted from the shift in public perception, she said, and missing person cases are now widely shared across social media.

“We do have to change the way we look at our missing people,” she said. “Everyone is affected.”

McKale said disappearances affect more than just the missing individual and their immediate family. Everyone is touched, she said, from the local communities to the police officers who investigate the cases. It would be almost impossible to find a community in the North that has not experienced the pain of a missing person, she said.

The police investigators are also not immune to the emotional effects of their cases, McKale said, and understand how wide-reaching the pain can be. Some of the many cases she worked have stayed on her mind for years. McKale said she catches herself scanning the ground whenever she flies over the sites of disappearances many years old.

“We’ve had missing people in the area between La Ronge and Stony Rapids, and every time I fly that area I’m looking down,” she said. “It affects you deeply.”

Conrad Burns, missing persons liaison with Prince Albert Victim Services, said people are working together to address the issue now more than ever before. Families, communities and the media are more involved in search efforts, Burns said, which helps bring even more awareness to the problem.

Because missing person cases are more commonly seen as a broad social problem, Burns said there are now proactive steps being taken to prevent people from going missing. Burns said victim services visits schools and group homes to talk with young people about strategies to stay safe.

“It’s a longstanding issue that’s finally coming to light and getting the attention it needs,” he said.

 

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