Voluntarily Missing

My life has this funny way of circling around behind me and biting me in the arse. It offers up old topics I thought long gone from my sleepless nights, and it challenges me to learn a new level of acceptance for what just is.
My newest challenge is the topic of missing people, and it has me staring deep into the back of a mirror. I’ve never had to see it from this angle before.

Have you seen Colleen Smith?

As a teenager I was a chronic runaway, http://www.slavetothefarm.ca and I admit it, I caused my family and many other people to twist and turn in their beds worrying that I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere.
Thirty years later, I find myself twisting and turning in my own bed worried about Colleen. She may very well be voluntarily missing, or at least that’s what everyone is saying about her, but my gut tells me different. Could she actually be doing this on purpose? I have trouble believing that and so I twist and turn.

I scour the internet for information about her and other missing people in British Columbia. I’m particularly interested in people who go missing voluntarily, but I’m finding depressingly little about them. What I do find is disjointed and confusing. I’m frustrated when I can’t answer questions that seem, at least to me, obvious to ask. Anyway here’s what I’ve found as I understand it. If you have different information please share.

The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains (NCMPUR) provides law enforcement, medical examiners and chief coroners with specialized investigative services. They support missing persons and unidentified remains investigations.
According to their most recent fact sheet, in 2014, 7701 adults in British Columbia were reported missing. 67% of those missing adult reports were removed within 24 hours, while 85% were removed within the first week. How many of the remaining 15% are still unsolved is unclear. http://www.canadasmissing.ca/pubs/2014/index-eng.htm
The RCMP do not maintain a total number of current ongoing missing persons cases or a total number of unidentified remains cases currently ongoing and/or solved.

I for one wonder why not with the wonders of today’s technology, but so much about our modern policing and policies makes me question who and what it serves. Moving on.

Quick facts about reporting an adult missing… 1) Anyone can report someone missing if there is no reasonable explanation for a disappearance 2) There is no waiting period before you can make a report, in fact the sooner the better. And 3) It’s not illegal to go missing.

A STUDY OF MISSING PERSONS IN B.C. written by Marla Patterson of Simon Fraser University states

The total number of persons that go missing each year is unknown. There are several reasons for this, first, many disappearances are not reported to police; second, there is no standard definition of what is a “missing person” and third, there is no single
or central source of general statistical information (Swanton & Wilson, 1989).

Very little general information exists on missing adults. Most of the information available is made up of case histories of well-known disappearances. One of the major
reasons for this lack of research is the legal right of adults to move about freely. With adults, the absence of an accompanying crime or suspected illegality leaves family members with little grounds for contacting police (Hirschel & Lab, 1988).

Information on missing adults:
-Males in their late 20’s are more likely to disappear than any other group of adults.
-Among those aged over 60 years, the most common reason for going missing is dementia or other mental problems.
-Adults are more likely to go missing if they are going through a crisis or
difficult transition, or if they are vulnerable due to chronic health or
mental difficulties (NMPH, 2004).
-Most adults that go missing do so because of a breakdown in their relationships with partners or parents. For example, some women fleeing domestic violence situations will break off all contact out of fear of being traced. Others leave to escape an
accumulation of personal, financial, or mental health problems, while many disappear after a breakdown in their mental health in order to commit suicide (NMPH, 2004).


One of the most difficult tasks for police in missing person cases is to determine which cases are urgent and require immediate action and which cases are less critical. The Kaufman Report on the Wrongful Conviction of Guy Paul Morin made it clear that missing person searches should be conducted according to a standardized operating procedure and that officers conducting missing person investigations must be mindful of the possibility that the case could develop into a major crime investigation. Canadian and international studies and reports have identified numerous gaps in the justice system’s response to reports of missing women, particularly vulnerable and marginalized women, including Aboriginal women. These systemic deficiencies and inadequacies include:

-Failure by police to take reports of missing women seriously;
-Delays in investigations;
-Lack of effort put into searches and public appeals;
-Poor adherence to established policies and protocols;
-Concern over lack of public information about the current missing persons policies for police services;
-Frustration with issues related to communication between families and the police services;
-Challenges with attempting to implement cooperative programs with police services (e.g. Safely Home Program);
-Frustration with the number of missing persons reported each year;
-Concerns regarding the level of input from community regarding missing persons cases;
-Confusion over the role of search and rescue in missing persons cases;
-Confusion over the actual number of missing persons cases in Saskatchewan;
-and concern over gender and racial trends with regard to missing persons cases.

The last three points above don’t really apply to Colleen’s case, but every other one does. I have experienced the frustration they speak to acutely.

Through my research I’ve learned that from 1950 to 2004 in BC there were 2418 people who remained missing. 1771 of those people were men, with the majority of them going missing some time in their late 20’s. 519 women went missing in that 54 year period but there is little information about why they went missing.

I think women and men go missing for very different reasons, and isn’t it about time we improve our social safety nets for finding missing people and especially the marginalized? When will police recognize this fact and investigate missing people accordingly?
We need a more comprehensive definition of what Missing Persons means, and a broader understanding of what it means to be voluntarily missing. While it may not be illegal to go missing, if you’re voluntarily missing from financial responsibility and stress, that’s one thing. If you’re running from an abusive situation that’s something else entirely.

My question is when will law enforcement recognize the difference?


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