The morning spectators of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls witnessed the story of Mary Jane Hill, told by her daughter Vicki Hill.
Vicki participated in the walk to raise awareness this past weekend from Prince Rupert to Smithers with her daughter. She came from Prince Rupert to tell her story in hopes that they can see justice and help improve safety along the Highway of Tears.
She is the youngest of 4 and was only 6 months old when her mother’s body was found 21 KM outside. Left to live with her paternal grandparents, she left at the age of 13 because of abuse that she didn’t want to discuss the details of in her tearful testimony.
Hill started learning about her mother in 2006, and for the past 11 years she has been investigating Mary Jane’s death- a journey that she says the RCMP hasn’t made any easier.
After receiving a scrapbook from a support worker about her mother’s death, Vicki started to look for information herself so she went to the RCMP and requested the file pertaining to her mother, only to discover that to this day the RCMP will not give her the file. Their reasons? They say the photos are too graphic and disturbing for Vicki.
The only information that she has received about her mother is her death inquisition, which states that her mother died from manslaughter, as well as that her mother had not taken her epilepsy medication in at least 48 hours before her death.
Mary Jane Hill also had bronchitis and bronchopneumonia at the time of her death, which was detailed as March 26th 1978 by the coroners. Vicki received her mother’s death certificate from the same person who made her the scrapbook and helped her along the journey to discover the truth about her mother- Kerry Riddle.
Vicki participated in Project E-PANA, a BC investigation that looked into disappearances of women on the Highway of Tears, but after explaining the details of her story, they determined that Mary Jane didn’t ‘fit the criteria’ to be considered one of the Highway’s victims.
Mary Jane’s clothing was discovered in an alley in Prince Rupert with her medication in the pocket and traces of semen. Mary Jane had no traces of drugs or alcohol in her system. She was found on the side of the Highway. Yet, still to this day she is not on the Missing and Murdered site, and not classified as a victim.
Vicki says she is frustrated because nobody is listening to her, nobody cares about her story and after surmounting frustration and disrespect, Vicki has given up looking because she says it’s not getting her anywhere.
Her recommendations to help stop these disappearances was logical and something that anyone from the area could easily identify- better cellular service and emergency phones along the highway, more signage to encourage people not to hitchhike, and of course better transportation services. She was the first person of the day to mention Greyhound pulling out of Northern BC, but wasn’t the only. Vicki says there are not effective enough services for cab companies and public transportation which leads people to hitchhike because they literally have no other way to get around. Other issues brought up for the region was the lack of stable councilling and mental health services, as well as detox and treatment centres.
After an intermission, the Hearings continued with the story of Destiny Tom.
Daughter of Burns Lake Chief Vivan Tom, who was supposed to testify earlier that morning but due to unforeseen medical issues she wasn’t able to attend the hearings until 1:30. This pushed back the itinerary of the hearings and commissioners Buller and Audette split into two separate rooms to hear stories from loved ones while attempting to maintain a sensible time frame.
Vivian’s testimony was lively and heartfelt. Although answers as to why the tragedy happened to her daughter remain, she has the closure of knowing what happened and who took her daughter’s life.
Vivian and her husband are currently raising her granddaughter Cassidy after Destiny died as the result of domestic violence. Her testimony started off illustrating the difference between how society was when she was little compared to now. She says that children now have no respect for their parents, because back when she was being raised by her grandparents, they were more strict with higher expectations from their children.
She also went into her ongoing health problems since she was young, constantly suffering from lung infections, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. The former drug and alcohol counselor said she had to work twice as hard and she would never allow drinking and drugs in her home after having alcoholic parents. She wanted to ensure that she had a safe home for her children.
When Destiny was in high school she started to date Garret George. It became evident to her mother that as the relationship progressed he became more controlling and abusive towards Destiny.
Vivian recalls the first incident where she found out her daughter was being abused. As Destiny approached graduation her friends were planning a grad trip to Calgary. Garret didn’t want Desinty to go on the trip because at the time she was 3 1/2 months pregnant with her daughter.
Vivian recalls her version of the story. Destiny and Garret were at her house when the incident happened. She said that she arrived back home for a moment and was having problems with her van door. She asked for Garret’s help when she noticed that there was blood in the kitchen. Garret was prone to get nosebleeds so she joked about them only being there for a few minutes before messing up her house.
Garret fixed the door and Vivian left. Her brother showed up a short time later to the house and noticed that there was a lot more blood than Vivian had noticed. The door to Destiny’s bedroom was locked so her uncle kicked in the door to make sure she was okay, only to discover that they were no longer in the house.
Garret forced Destiny to hitchhike back to his hometown of Naughtly after attacking her with knives in the kitchen of Vivian’s house. He threatened her with three separate knives. The first he cut her chin, scarring her, then threw the knife in the sink. He then grabbed a second knife and scarred her right over her heart, throwing the knife afterward into the sink. He escalated the altercation by grabbing a large knife and attempting to stab Destiny, when she broke free and grabbed the knife, scarring all of her fingers.
Police arrested Garret at his mother’s house and he was sent to jail under the instruction not to have any contact with Destiny and her family. He bypassed the order by sending letters to her addressed to her young daughter.
Vivian described her feelings towards the justice system after they struck a deal with Garett and failed to recognize the unborn child her daughter was carrying. Garret was sentenced to one year, and following his release, he began stalking Destiny and attempting to control her.
After his release, there was another incident in Naughtly. Destiny had texted her brother, asking that he come pick her up, then shortly texted afterward saying everything was okay and not to come. He flagged that as suspicious and called his mom. RCMP arrived once again at Garret’s house to find Destiny lying in Garret’s bed, her face completely bruised. Their daughter sleeping in the next room, Garret was arrested again and charged with assault.
Destiny was murdered at the age of 21. Her daughter was 2 at the time of her death.
Garret’s stalking continued and increase, but Destiny was trying to change her life and was pursuing a job around the BC/Yukon border. She received a text from Garret’s mother’s phone saying that he had died and she called her mom beside herself with emotion. Vivian encouraged her to continue on her path and do good for herself. She was supposed to be taking a trip to Prince George
Vivian recalled that they were using a lot of drugs and alcohol at the time, and Destiny had talked about going to a treatment centre, but the centre never returned her calls and her program stalled. She began drinking again.
She was supposed to be taking a trip to Prince George and Vivian thought she was seeing someone new. She was happy for her daughter, hoping that she turned a new leaf in her life when she discovered that her daughter was actually with Garret again in Naughtly.
That is when she got the news that they had found Destiny. She remembers the gut-wrenching scream from her husband when they found out about her daughter’s death.
Destiny had been at a party and there was an altercation. She was found lying in the snow and mud in the community, with no regard for her body. She was badly bruised and battered.
Autopsy reports determined that Destiny was hit so hard that she was decapitated, but her head remained attached by flesh and tissue. Vivian recalls her open-casket funeral, where her face was heavily bruised and scarred, and her head was at an awkward angle. Vivian later found out why.
Garret was arrested and charged again, sentenced to 8 years in prison where he remains today. Vivan told spectators about her journey to find God and how she was released from pain by forgiving Garret after thoughts of suicide and relapse.
She then commissioned a special headstone for Destiny with angel wings and a heart with her grad photo.
Vivian says that now her granddaughter is being bullied in the community and there is a lack of support systems for children left behind after victims of domestic violence or murder and she would like to see better programs in place. She says her granddaughter at the age of six first started talking about suicide and wanting to be with her mother. Vivian says after explaining to her granddaughter that if you take your own life you cannot be with God and mom in heaven, the young girl started to just wish she would die sooner.
Now Cassidy is focused on becoming an RCMP office, so she can help other people and ‘do good in the world.
The last testimony heard in the Friendship Centre was that of the family of Tamara Chipman.
Tom Chipman, Gladys Radek and Lorna Brown retold the story of Tamara’s life and how it inspired their family to start the Highway of Tears Movement.
Tamara’s dad Tom was the first to notice she was missing. He was away fishing at the time and after not hearing from her, which was not a usual thing as they had a strong relationship, he started to call around to his family asking if they had seen her.
Tamara’s life had been in turmoil after her son Jaden was taken away due to a boating incident with his father where he was not properly secured and fell into the water at six months old. Tamara had been fighting for custody of her child, and previous to her disappearance she had regained that custody.
Lorna, Tamara’s aunt, had Jaden temporarily while Tamara was fighting to get him back. Lorna explained that Tamara had been working really hard to get custody of her son and that it became a battle with the social worker, who Lorna said was exceptionally hard on Tamara.
Tamara was hitchhiking back and forth between Prince Rupert and Terrace because she was having car trouble. At the time of her disappearance her son was with her dad on his fishing boat, which is why he became immediately suspicious when he didn’t hear from her because she would always check up on them.
Tamara’s family described her relationship with Jaden’s father, a known drug dealer who was 18 years older than her. They noticed that after she started dating Jaden’s father Tamara started not showing up at family gatherings and was harder and harder to find. Lorna says that she feels if social services worked better with Tamara after Jaden was taken away, that she would have been able to get herself back together instead of feeling depleted, lost and turning to drugs to numb the pain.
Tamara has never been found. There are stories that circulate and tips that have come in about her whereabouts, but after investigations by the RCMP, the family and advocates on Vancouver’s lower East side- nothing has turned up.
12 years ago last week was the last time anyone had seen her.
Florence Naziel and Betty Joesph, cousins of the Chipman family, started a walk from Prince Rupert to a symposium in Prince George about missing women on the highway. They coined the term Highway of Tears and have now completed 7 walks to raise awareness for missing and murdered women along the highway and throughout Canada.
Gladys has walked from coast to coast. She walked right to the front doors of Parliment Hill and demanded the inquiry during the Harper government. During those walks she talked to thousands of families across the country about their loved ones, listing over 4000 women who have gone missing or ended up murdered.
They wrote 33 recommendations for the federal government to stop violence, including again better transportation services, shuttles for all First Nations communities, a better working relationship with the RCMP as well as an increase in patrolling along the highways.
The National Inquiry continues throughout today and tomorrow.