Missing Persons From The Families Perspective
When my youngest son, Daniel (28), went missing on November 3, 2011, I knew no one with a missing loved one, nor did I know anything about how the missing person process worked or what our family was up against. From this, I learned quickly that there is no supportive system and there are no standardized missing person procedures across Canada or regionally. Due to this, navigating through the process was unbearable, inconsistent, and unfair. This was not what I expected and so I set about trying to change it. This blog will, therefore, talk about the steps I went through to make changes in the field of missing persons in Canada, and will discuss my experiences from the perspective as a parent of a missing loved one.
Connecting Families and Community:
My initial focus was first on getting connected with other families who too had a missing loved one. This was next-to-impossible until one family organized a community event called the “Music for the Missing”. Daniel had only been missing for one week when this was occurring, so it was a major eye-opener for me to meet so many families who had missing loved ones and receive that support from the families, since this was a huge gap in Canada. Through family experiences being shared in events such as these, it became clear that traditional counselling was failing these families as it did with mine. At this time, traditional counselling knew little about our experiences of ambiguous loss (see the work by Dr. Pauline Boss, for example), and did not understand that our support needs were not a set number of sessions until we were done with counselling. Our journey is laden with triggers that could extend for years, even for a lifetime.
Once I became aware of this need for families in the system, I was on a mission to engage the community. 'Thanks' goes to CMHA Waterloo Wellington as together we were able to raise awareness, identify the support gaps, and train interested agencies, including Victim Services, so that they could support families in ways that meet our particular needs. This focus led to the development of a working model that could benefit other communities needing support for the families with missing persons in Canada. Also, in June 2020, we were able to restart our peer support group for families, now facilitated virtually. This extended the peer group to online, so it reaches families anywhere in Canada.
Reconnecting Families with Police:
At the same time, I wanted to work on reconnecting families with police. After arranging a meeting to improve communications and relations between families and Waterloo Regional Police Service, my focus changed to legislation. Specifically, I concentrated on advocating for the enactment of a Missing Persons Act in Ontario. Notably, this came into effect on July 1, 2019. The absence of such an Act was identified by police as their greatest roadblock to investigating missing person cases, given that there was no evidence of crime. This meant that, prior to the Act, the police had limited power in searching and investigating missing person cases. To families, this came as a shock – this was not known to families who ultimately became frustrated as they were thinking the police were not doing their job. In reality, it was that they were restricted with what they could do to access pertinent information on the case. The families that I have talked with are less frustrated with this process now. They know that, with this legislation, the police can now issue demand orders to get access to personal information of the missing person and to search locations to help find the missing. Families heard police and took action to help with clearing this investigative roadblock.
My Information Gathering Experience:
I am not a researcher, but I do consider myself a relentless information gatherer. Over a period of two years, I gathered input from families regarding where they experienced gaps and problems in the system and what they felt was necessary to meet their needs. Like me, a lot of their focus was on police and lack of community supports. Through this process, I realized that there were no standardized components or clear processes when it came to addressing missing persons that would ensure consistency, transparency, and accountability within the jurisdiction of a province or territory, let alone across Canada. Although this information gathering captured common needs across a sample of families in Canada, the needs are similar and focus on the same requirements for fair and equitable services for all families of missing loved ones. This is my conclusion based on the voices of those left behind. I started out looking specifically at what families need, but the recommendations are potentially relevant to what anyone in our country would need. To learn more, here is the report that I released on January 20, 2020.
Why Are There So Many Gaps In The Field Of Missing Persons In Canada?:
From my persistent information gathering, I believe that there is no social outcry or movement, except somewhat for missing children and for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Also, there is limited research to advise policy or legislative change. But, I strongly believe it is an issue that everyone should feel passionately about given that it can impact anybody at any time – anyone can go missing, and anyone can end up struggling with the loss of a loved one going missing. Speaking from experience, I do not wish this painful and relentless loss upon anyone.
So, we can thank the National Inquiry into MMIWG for shining a light on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and for giving them a voice. However, Canada still has not taken pro-active action to this issue. To be equal and fair, we need the voices of all those with missing loved ones, so future research would be best aimed at interviewing families to understand missing persons from this perspective. We also need much more research to advance the field of missing persons.
So, What’s Next?:
These are the key questions I continue to ponder, and hope they can be answered:
What can we do for the missing?
What can we do for the families, those left behind?
What can we do to reduce and/or prevent the issue of missing persons?
Will this Hub help to generate more missing persons research in Canada?
I hope that this blog post will help to bring about more discussions and spark research interest in the field of missing persons. I believe this area is wide open and look forward to researchers on this Missing Persons Research Hub jumping in to meet research demands of this field in Canada. I am also humbled and excited by the creation of this Hub -- “thanks” to Lorna Ferguson for her innovation, experience, and passion for missing persons research in Canada.
Writer: Maureen Trask, Advocate for the Missing and the Families Left Behind
Maureen has been a long-time resident of Waterloo Region, until May 2017 when she made Puslinch her home. She has a BA in Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and is retired from a 40-year career in Information Technology.
On Nov. 3, 2011 she was confronted with the most challenging event of her life when her youngest son, Daniel, went missing. This set her on a journey of searching, not only for Daniel, but also for information and resources. During the early years, Maureen was shocked to discover the lack of resources and support services for families like hers, and little community understanding of what families needed.
She is now an advocate for families by raising awareness and providing training for those who can help support families. She is also actively engaged in collaborating with families, Police, Victim Services, community agencies and the media to introduce legislation and policy change that will help the families and the missing on their journey of uncertainty, living with Ambiguous Loss (Dr. Pauline Boss).