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Marlene Bear used to live in Smithers, B.C., near the Highway of Tears, a stretch of highway in northern B.C. where at least 18 girls and women have gone missing or been murdered since 1969, and she’s worried Saskatchewan might see the same problem. (CBC Illustrative Photo) Marlene Bear says she fears northern Saskatchewan could become a new Highway of Tears due to the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Bear is a mental health counsellor based in Prince Albert, and she often drives to Stanley Mission. She says she’s seen much more hitchhiking on that stretch of highway since STC shut down in May, and an encounter with a young woman alerted her to the brewing problem. Frightening experience

She stopped for a woman walking on the side of the road. Bear says the woman wasn’t hitchhiking, but she pulled over anyway because it was chilly out and it was getting dark, and she was worried about the woman’s safety.

The woman told Bear she was walking instead of hitchhiking because a recent experience had frightened her. She’d hitchhiked with a man who had repeatedly touched her during the ride; he brushed her breasts with his hand, and touched her knee and leg. Bear said when the woman asked to get out, he got angry.

"He was saying stuff like, you really thought you were going to get a ride? You’re going to f–kin’ pay for your own ride and, you thought I was going to do this for free? So she got out and she went straight into the ditch because she thought he’ll probably run me over and they won’t ever find me," Bear told CBC Radio’s Saskatoon Morning. ‘I would usually catch the bus’

Bear used to live in Smithers, B.C., near the Highway of Tears, a stretch of highway in northern B.C. where at least 18 girls and women have gone missing or been murdered since 1969.

She’s worried she’s going to see more cases like the woman she met.

"She said I would usually catch the bus but there’s no bus now, so I have to figure out ways to get there, and I don’t have money. She didn’t have a drivers’ licence, doesn’t have a car."

Last month, Minister Joe Hargrave told CBC Radio’s The Morning Edition that the STC will not be resurrected.

"It’s not a public service — it’s a service to people," he said on Oct. 25.

"People chose by not riding on the bus." Hitchhiking concerns

This isn’t the first time former bus riders have brought up concerns about hitchhiking and safety since the STC closure.

In June, Connie Deiter from Regina filed a complaint with the human rights commission alleging that the decision to close the STC discriminates against her and other Indigenous women.

The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan has also said the loss of the bus service may put those facing domestic abuse in rural Saskatchewan at risk.

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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