by LAURA KEIL, Publisher
Rural people are used to brushing off naïve assumptions about where they live – especially from urban media.
It must be the sensationalism of this latest story that has pushed me to my limit.
Many people seem to have lost their minds after a 12-year-old and 16-year-old were left at the 24h Petro-Can station in Valemount at 4 a.m. after it was discovered the girls’ tickets were expired and the connecting bus was full.
Here’s a quote from BC’s Transportation Minister who has ordered an investigation into Greyhound.
“No reasonable individual would leave two children in a potentially unsafe location on the side of the road,” Mr. Stone told reporters Thursday.
By “side of the road” I’m guessing Mr. Stone is referring to Valemount’s 24h gas station. Other news articles referenced how the two teens were left at a “remote” stop – as if that word carries all the weight of judgment needed for something to be news. Even the Globe and Mail hopped onto the sensationalism train with this quote:
“That location is isolated and dangerous, infamous for young women going missing,” family friend Maeve Hanna said. “It’s ludicrous they were left there.”
For a national newspaper to quote someone unchallenged stating that Valemount is “infamous for young women going missing,” is sad and takes away from the real issues.
As far as I have learned, none of the girls and women who have gone missing or were murdered in the Interior in the last 40 years were picked up at the Valemount Petro-Can. As a seasoned Greyhound bus rider, I would argue the girls were probably safer in the gas station at that hour than they were on a packed, dark bus. The gas station was well-lit, has surveillance cameras, washrooms, is warm and is staffed by friendly, responsible attendants. They were just as “unaccompanied” in the gas station as they were on the bus.
Despite not being required to do so, the bus driver liaised with Greyhound dispatch to arrange for the girls’ passage on the next bus two hours later (one that was unfortunately a much longer ride to their destination), asked the girls if they were ok being left at that location, and talked to the gas station attendants about keeping an eye on the girls – girls that were initially ok getting on a bus in the middle of the night by themselves, are both old enough to babysit, and are not considered “unaccompanied minors” under Greyhound’s strict policies.
But for some reason, the fact that they were left in a “remote” location made it a national news story. The downtown Edmonton Greyhound station is no doubt measurably worse and less safe than the Greyhound agent in Valemount. Plus, it is likely easier to go missing in a city – which is busy and more anonymous – than in a small town.
But there is this assumption that a small-town gas station is more dangerous than an urban one. Why?
Equally embarrassing and problematic is the invoking of the Highway of Tears in these stories. First of all, the roughly two dozen women and girls who have gone missing or were murdered in the B.C. Interior since 1969 were nowhere close to Valemount. Most were between Prince George and Prince Rupert – three to nine hours from here. It is outrageous to imply that the entire 1300-km stretch of Hwy 16 as well as connecting highways are crawling with kidnappers and murderers.
I can understand why the mother and girls suffered anxiety and distress. It sucks being left somewhere – anywhere – in the middle of the night, when you thought you would be somewhere else.
But the reality is, they were left at a safe location, not “at the side of the road” and not even along the Highway of Tears.
I believe Greyhound did its due diligence by arranging safe passage on the next bus and the girls were not placed in harm’s way in any reasonable sense of the term.
So please, urban media, please stop using the terms “rural and remote” as if they are inherently bad or worse. It is fear mongering, plain and simple, and makes us simple rural folks shake our heads.