Corporal in Charge of Missing Persons Unit, Surrey RCMP
Special Projects Coordinator, Surrey Women's Centre
The Surrey Missing Women’s Network began at a community table nearly seven years ago. At the time the community and the RCMP were integrating the terrible lessons learned from the Robert William Pickton case; one of BC’s most notorious serial killers. Conversations between police and social service providers about missing women were frequent and emotional. Barb Creighton, Corporal in charge of the Surrey RCMP’s Missing Person’s Unit (MPU), describes the shift. "Several years ago missing persons reports were not investigated as thoroughly as they probably should have been; however, today police adhere to the Provincial Missing Person Policy. Investigations are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly with the well being of the missing person confirmed once located. The Surrey RCMP Missing Persons Unit reviews all missing person files reported to Surrey Detachment and provides direction to investigators when necessary. MPU assumes conduct of 'chronic' missing person files, parental abductions and all high risk files."
Significant policy changes in missing persons investigations meant police were faced with mounting missing persons reports. “Last year along, the Surrey RCMP received just over 2000 reports of missing persons!”, notes Barb. Prior to the creation of the Missing Women’s Network women reported missing by their husbands were particularly difficult to investigate. Often there were suspicions of domestic violence. Police believed women were seeking safety in transition houses where their whereabouts would not be disclosed. Meanwhile, abusers were exploiting police resources as a way to maintain control over their partners.
This Missing Women’s Network grew out of a need to maintain the anonymity of women fleeing violence while ensuring the police were able to confirm their well-being and close their missing person file. Today, when a woman is reported missing, Barb and her team at the Missing Persons Unit send a report to Corrine Arthur at Surrey Women’s Centre, who forwards it on to transition homes and resource centres across the region; all the way from Hope to Squamish. Anyone who has recently seen or worked with the missing woman can then confirm their safety.
Surrey Women’s Centre acts as a safe and trusted go-between for a community of service providers, the police, and the women and children they serve. This has been an invaluable addition to missing persons investigations. As Corrine explains, “information is only shared with a woman’s consent. This way we can protect a woman’s privacy and anonymity without compromising our collaborative, coordinated response.” In many cases women will contact the police directly once they’re aware they’ve been reported missing.
Seven years since its start, the Surrey Missing Women’s Network spreads the word about missing women to 150 network members within the region. Often, within hours, the network is able to confirm that a woman is safe. These efforts are grounded in a common goal shared by Barb, Corrine and 150 regional network partners: to help keep women and children safe.