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Complete cellular connectivity coming to ‘Highway of Tears’

Murray Rankin, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Province of B.C. photo

VICTORIA – Thanks to federal and provincial investments, Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George will soon have cellular coverage along the entire route.

“We must continue to do everything in our power to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls to ensure they are safe to travel anywhere in our province, but especially between communities along Highway 16,” said Barb Ward-Burkitt, executive director, Prince George Native Friendship Centre, in a news release. “I commend the province, the federal government and Rogers for expanding cell service along the isolated and essential corridor between Smithers and Prince Rupert – it serves as an important step of reconciliation and honouring for murdered and missing sisters, daughters, mothers, aunties and their families.”

Solving the problem of cellular gaps between communities along Highway 16 was among the Highway of Tears Symposium Report’s 33 recommendations aimed at enhancing safety for Indigenous women and girls.

This recommendation from the symposium was echoed in the report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This investment is key to ensure women, especially Indigenous women, who are not safe can call for help and receive the services they need to ensure their safety and security.

“People travelling this economic corridor and vital connection between communities will no longer be out of cell service range if they need to call for emergency services,” said Lisa Beare, B.C.’s Minister of Citizens’ Services. “This project means there will be cellular coverage along the entire length of Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert, giving people peace of mind knowing they can reach out for help if they need it. It is a critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies along this route, bringing comfort to people who use the highway and are now safter because of this connectivity.”

The Connecting British Columbia program and the Government of Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund will provide Rogers $4.5 million towards the $11.6-million cost of installing cellular infrastructure to provide cellular coverage in the remaining areas of weak signal strength between Prince Rupert and Smithers.

“This project will provide continuous cellular coverage along the whole of the highway corridor, which will improve overall safety for this area,” said Murray Rankin, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “It honours the memory of both survivors and the friends and family members of the Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people who have gone missing, been murdered or experienced other forms of violence along Highway 16.”

Maryam Monsef, federal Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, said: “Access to reliable cell and internet connections create jobs and are vital for the health and safety of Canadians. We heard from too many loved ones the anguish, loss and trauma caused by the murders and disappearances along the highway of tears. Gender-based violence is preventable. Through a partnership with the Government of B.C., the Government of Canada will improve safety along Highway 16 and enable loved ones to call for help when in danger. There is more work to be done to connect more communities to high-speed internet and reliable cell service. The Government of Canada, through the Universal Broadband Fund, will work with all willing partners to do just that.”

Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said: “Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people have the right to feel safe wherever they are. For years, the Highway of Tears has become an iconic example of the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Families and survivors have highlighted the connection between MMIWG and gaps in cellular service along Canadian highways, especially in rural and remote areas. This investment is an important and concrete step towards ensuring all travellers, especially women and girls, along Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert can reliably call for help if and when they need it.”

As part of this project, Rogers plans to install 12 cellular towers along the highway. This will provide 252 kilometres of new highway cellular coverage, closing several gaps along this corridor.

“As someone who uses this highway regularly and has been stranded once myself, I know how important this project is for the people who travel Highway 16,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and MLA for North Coast. “Not only will this project open up access to communities along this corridor, it will also make it much easier for emergency responders to react quickly when people need assistance.”

This project will also provide coverage to three rest areas along Highway 16, located at Boulder Creek, Basalt Creek and Sanderson Point. It is scheduled to be complete in fall 2022.

“Rogers is proud to be investing in British Columbia to build critically needed 5G networks to bridge the digital divide, including across rural, remote and Indigenous communities,” said Dean Prevost, president, Connected Home and Rogers for Business. “With these investments announced today, in collaboration with the B.C. government and the Government of Canada, Rogers is providing improved safety and reliable connectivity for those who depend on Highway 16, while creating new jobs and supporting the economy of northern B.C.”

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