Winnipeg police to manage all Manitoba missing persons reports through new hub

Winnipeg police will oversee all missing persons reports in Manitoba as part of a new hub that aims to help more quickly find people who disappear and provide supports for agencies working with those who chronically go missing.

The provincial government announced $2.1 million on Monday to fund the Manitoba Integrated Missing Persons Response.

The hub will manage all reports of missing persons in Manitoba and aims to more efficiently prioritize police response to reports, particularly when involving people from rural and northern areas and cases involving higher risk groups such as women and young girls vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and people who go missing on a recurring basis.

“Each one of those missing person reports … is an individual who is in jeopardy, it’s an individual whose family is worried about them and it is an individual who is ultimately at risk,” Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference at RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg.

In Winnipeg alone last year, he said 9,315 missing persons reports were lodged, which works out to about 25 per day. Nearly two-thirds of reports in Manitoba in 2021 were “runaway girls,” Goertzen said.

“There’s so many calls coming right now it’s maybe difficult to sometimes do the assessment on risk,” he said. 

“So, being able to ensure that the most resources are being dedicated to the most critical situations ultimately we hope will not only reduce the numbers of individuals who are missing but … reduce those situations that [often] end up in a tragic situation.”

Hub to work with other agencies

He said the new hub will require co-ordination from the various police departments, community services and other agencies to function smoothly in helping to manage cases, including those involving people who go missing on a recurring basis.

“It provides consistency in reporting and the ability to tap into each other through risk assessment and response,” said Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth.

Winnipeg police will be expanding a risk assessment template system they already use to help figure out which kind of response is warranted for different calls, said Smyth.

A police officer in a white shirt speaks into a microphone at a podium
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth says the new Manitoba Integrated Missing Persons Response unit will help police offices and community agencies from across the province better respond to missing persons reports. (Radio-Canada)

The hub will be run and staffed by Winnipeg Police Service specialized missing persons co-ordinators on a 24-7 basis.

Smyth said the hope is to add four co-ordinator positions in the coming months. The positions will also fill gaps by providing more coverage for report intake between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., he said.

Broadly speaking, Smyth said most reports fall into two categories, with one including youth in the child and family services system who live in group homes and take off.

The other group involves people who come to urban centres like Winnipeg for medical care, education or recreation who “are not used to the dangers and harms that can come with the city.”

“Those two areas created a lot of vulnerability and potential harm,” he said.

“This enhanced co-ordination ensures a timely investigation, and an effective way to liaise with families concerned about loved ones who are missing.”

RCMP receives 3,500 reports per year

Assistant Commissioner Rob Hill, commanding officer with the Manitoba RCMP, said the force receives 10 missing person reports on average daily just in RCMP-managed jurisdictions. That translates to 3,500 such RCMP investigations per year, he said. 

Just over half of reports come from the north, said Hill, and many involve young people who have left for the south.

“It is not uncommon for them to be lured to Winnipeg or Brandon,” he said. “What I am truly pleased to see is that this co-ordination and information exchange will not be limited to police services but will also include key partners such as child and family services and Indigenous advocacy groups.”

A woman with dark hear and a navy shirt with red and white patterns speaks into a microphone.
Heidi Spence is the MMIWG liaison with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an advoacy group that represents over two dozen northern First Nations in Manitoba, many of them fly-in communities. (Radio-Canada)

Heidi Spence is director of the MMIWG liaison unit with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an advocacy group that represents 26 First Nations in the north.

She said sometimes MKO ends up with information through connecting with family members about missing loved ones they believe may be in Winnipeg.

Spence is optimistic its connections can help police co-ordinators staffing the new hub.

“It’s going to help the resources and better communication to be able to give answers to the family and loved ones of our women, girls and 2SLGBTQ people who are missing,” said Spence.

Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires said the announcement builds on recommendations from the national inquiry into murder and missing Indigenous women and girls, and the Manitoba Children’s Advocate recommendations to create more capacity for a joint child welfare and justice response in the province.

More than 70 per cent of domestic homicide victims are women, “a disturbing statistic that underlines that much more needs to be done,” she said.

“Many women and girls travel or are lured to or trafficked to the city or other urban centre where they become at a higher risk of experiencing violence and being exploited,” she said.

“The risk is real and the problem is great but together we can get better results and it takes law enforcement and community to make it happen.”

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