Monday, June 26, 2023

BC leads pack by a long shot when it comes to Canada's missing persons


Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

My news feeds have been bringing me so many reports of missing persons in BC recently that I finally went looking for stats this month to clarify what was going on. Was there actually more people going missing, or was I merely trapped in a bad Google algorithm?

The truth turned out to be astonishing. Not only has BC been leading by a long shot the missing-person stats in Canada for adults age 18 and up every year since 2015, when the Missing Persons Act took effect, but the number of adults reported missing in BC has grown by more than 48 per cent since then. (Our population has increased by 10.2 per cent in the same period.)

In 2022, BC police filed 14,751 missing-person reports involving adults to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). The province with the next-highest number of reports was Ontario, at 7,298. While various provinces have been No. 2 over the years—all with roughly the same notable gulf between BC’s numbers and theirs—BC has always come in at No. 1.

Looking at per-capita rates, BC has been a consistent leader there, too. In 2022, British Columbia had the highest number of missing-adult reports per capita, with 273 reports per 100,000 people. The next highest was Saskatchewan, with 146 reports per 100,000 people.

In fact, 42 per cent of Canada’s 33,913 adult missing-person reports in 2022 originated in BC. That number is on the rise as well, up two per cent since 2020.

Equally worrying is the growing number of adults who aren’t being found quickly, in BC and across the country.

In past years, 60 per cent of CPIC reports on missing Canadian adults were taken out of the system within 24 hours, and 90 per cent were removed within a week. But in 2022, for the first time since stats have been kept, those numbers dropped to 34 per cent removed within 24 hours, and 73 per cent within a week.

I mentioned some of the startling BC-specific stats to an acquaintance with decades of experience in high-level provincial government positions.  He said any dramatic gap between the provinces for virtually any stat almost always comes down to some reporting difference. “Nothing is ever that different from one province to another,” he said.

So I looked into that.

The stats are based on missing-persons reports filed by Canadian police departments into the CPIC database. Missing-person reports can be filed immediately (forget all those cop shows you’ve seen where people are always having to wait 24 or 48 hours before reporting a missing person), and you could certainly speculate that different departments or regions could have different cultural practices around how quickly they file a report to CPIC.

Perhaps there’s a Robert Pickton effect, too. BC police departments looked bad when the details came out about the 1990s-era serial killer, what with so many of his victims missing for years but ignored by police because they were survival sex workers living in poverty and addiction. Maybe BC police ended up being more devoted than most to filing missing-person reports from that point on.

So I tracked down media relations at the RCMP’s national communications headquarters, the spokespeople for missing-persons information, and asked them if they could help me understand why BC seemed to have so many more missing persons.

They noted “many caveats,” from not assuming that the stats are actually complete (many cases are resolved before they get to CPIC), to being very cautious when considering the 11 categories of probable cause that missing-persons cases are slotted into at the time of reporting.

“You cannot be assured that every single person categorized in each category indeed belongs there,” wrote RCMP media relations rep Robin Percival in her email to me.

They agree that the stats are almost certainly affected by “differences in reporting procedures, as well as geography, urban/rural mix, demographics, culture mix and other factors.”

But taking all that into account, I still see no way to explain away BC’s huge lead on the number of adult missing persons as just being about reporting differences. We just seem to have a whole lot more people who go missing. (Click here for the list of active missing persons investigations in BC RCMP jurisdictions.)

“BC has its own peculiar mix of factors, including an ocean,” wrote Percival, adding that many fishermen go missing. “It is also an area where people drift to and then go missing.”

On the upside, our rate of missing children seems much more in line with the rest of the country, though we’re still consistently among the top three. In 2022, we placed second behind Ontario with more than 5,500 children missing, after Manitoba managed to bring down some high missing-child numbers from years past and fell into third spot. Per capita, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest rates.

Nationally, 33,394 children under age 18 went missing in 2022. Three-quarters of them were deemed “runaways,” and more than half were female.

Among Indigenous children, the percentage of missing girls is even higher. Girls account for two-thirds of the 8,300 Indigenous children reported missing last year.

Things that make you go “Hmmm…” Whatever the reason for BC to be lapping the pack when it comes to missing adults, it doesn’t feel good. Hope somebody other than a random blogger like me is taking a look at these numbers.


But also...I happened to be in my Google News settings recently for other reasons, and discovered that Google had singled me out for having a big interest in "missing persons" and had been sending all the stories of missing people everywhere to my news feed. So while it did turn out to be true that more people are going missing, I was also getting a tailored feed that was bringing this to my attention by feeding me way more sad news stories than a person could possibly handle on people gone missing. 

Friday, June 02, 2023

Curbs on social-media sharing will only intensify the divide

What will happen once social media cuts us off from sharing news stories with our connections? That strange development has the potential of sending us even deeper into our respective echo chambers, where no complex problems can ever be addressed. 

We have been heavily manipulated into our interest groups by social media for a number of years now, and it's becoming very obvious that it hasn't been a good thing. So on the one hand, so long, social media, and thanks for nothing for getting us all weird and angry at each other about every damn thing. But on the other, what now?

If you are reading good journalism from totally trusted sources and generally living life with your eyes open, you will be well aware that the world is in a kind of Black Mirror moment. It's like one of those movies where a bunch of chimpanzees or a flock of birds suddenly start doing something super-odd, and every viewer knows to interpret that as code for some very big which-what-everywhere weirdness to come. 

Those are the times we're in. And now, having been shoved into our corners by social media's marketing algorithms for many years, we face being blocked from sharing news items with our networks because of a game of chicken between social media corporations and government, which is  taking up arms on behalf of media companies unhappy that advertisers like social media best.

This is all taking place just as we are facing some of the biggest issues the human race has ever confronted. 

Climate change, artificial intelligence, book burning, the threat of nuclear warfare, one wild precedent-setting storm or fire or flood after another, people being killed on subways because their mental illness is annoying other passengers, communities running out of water. There's some intense stuff going on.

We're either going to start talking to each other reasonably about how to find solutions that are as fair as possible to all concerned, or we're setting the stage for human annihilation. (Not to be overly dramatic, but don't you think so?) 

We are wasting precious time, people. Whatever side you're on, whatever the issue, you know in your heart it's not possible to yell the other side into submission. We're going to need to talk. 

I'm not going all unicorns-and-rainbows here and imagining the lions lying with the lambs, peace and love among humankind. I know that's not going to happen. But we can find ways to identify common cause, and start there. Right, left or straight down the centre, none of us wants the water to run out on our kids and grandkids or to lose what a healthy environment gives us. 

Social media certainly has the potential to help. I still remember how excited I was at the thought of people from all around the world and a million perspectives suddenly able to talk to each other freely about all the big things on their minds. (Ha. Silly me.)

But we were never able to share information freely, as we all know now. Our feeds are curated, using criteria that is pulled from all the bits of information that we offer up about ourselves when we use social media. Advertisers like it that way.

I've noticed in my own page that my posts are no longer being seen by people who don't think like me, as judging by the very long time it has been since anyone contrary posted anything on my feed. I guess I'm supposed to be happy about an algorithmic defence against trolls provided to me by Facebook whether I wanted it or not, but I can't see how we ever solve problems if we all stay in our boxes surrounded by people just like us.

Meanwhile, a tiny fraction of the people in each of our social media networks even see what we share. If you're sharing a link these days, that seems to send your post into purgatory as well. I can tell that Facebook's algorithms like it best when I offer up a cheery here's-my-day kind of thing, or a photo of my dog. If only the world's problems could be solved with photos of my dog.

So yes, this whole social media business was fraught from the outset. There's a lot that's wrong with it. But eliminating the sharing of legitimate news articles is just about the last thing we need as we try to fight through all the hot air out here.

Modern media has much on its mind, including having to figure out new revenue streams and get more readers. But give me a well-researched Guardian or New York Times article any time over a bunch of random people's opinions about stuff they know nothing about.

The difficult conversations are stacking up. We're down to a talk-or-die situation on a number of fronts. We were never going to settle it all on Facebook, true enough. But it sure isn't going to be settled by making it even harder for people to get to information from a source they can hold accountable.