If you read one book this month, make it Highway of Tears

Jessica McDiarmid's essential book documents decades of horrifying indifference toward Indigenous women and girls in Canada

Highway 16.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Digital Vision ii/Alamy Stock Photo)

When you talk about Canada's Highway of Tears, you have to use qualifiers. Since 1969, at least 18 women and girls have gone missing or been murdered along Highway 16, a 450-mile stretch of remote, mountainous two-lane road that links Prince Rupert, a port just below the Alaskan panhandle, to Prince George, the largest city in northern British Columbia. "Since 1969," because we don't really know when the first girl went missing; "at least 18," because that's the official number of linked cold cases tallied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's special investigative unit, E-Pana. First Nations groups put the number much higher, closer to 50 unsolved murders, in which the vast majority of the victims are Indigenous.

For years, the missing and murdered women and girls of the Highway of Tears received little attention. Local newspapers could take days, and sometimes weeks or months, to mention the victims — precious time when fresh tips from the public might have potentially helped catch the killers. Promising leads were never followed up on; key pieces of evidence were misplaced. While the RCMP has maintained that race never influenced their investigations, the victims' families recall a predominant attitude of "just another Native" tainting efforts to find their loved ones. Canadian journalist Jessica McDiarmid's new investigative book, Highway of Tears, out now, seeks to right decades of indifference by putting the female victims front and center at last. The result is urgent and eye-opening, and one of only a few book-length efforts to understand the epidemic. Its conclusions are uncomfortable at best, and damning at worst; it is easily one of the most essential works of nonfiction of the year.

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