What do you do when a loved one goes missing?

By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

On Tuesday morning Bridget Tolley did what no mother wants to do—search for her missing daughter. Laura Spence and her friend Nicole Whiteduck were last seen on Sunday morning in Kitigan Zibi, a community north of Ottawa.

Tolley is the co-founder of the grassroots organization Families of Sisters in Spirit—one of Amnesty International’s key partners in the Stolen Sisters campaign to end violence against Indigenous women in Canada. She provides support to Indigenous families across Canada whose daughters, sisters, mothers, and aunties have gone missing or been murdered. And while she understands very well the pain of losing a loved one—her mother was killed in 2001 by a police cruiser—until this week she had not experienced what many of the families she works with have gone through when a loved one vanishes.

While dealing with her own fear and grief, Tolley had to contact authorities, liaise with the media, launch a search of the community, and run a social media campaign, all while taking care of her infant grandchild. She was quoted in the media as saying that all her work with families of missing women did not prepare her to launch a search of her own. No one should be expected to know what to do when a loved one goes missing.

We were relieved when Tolley’s daughter and her friend were found safe on Thursday morning.

Tolley’s experience underscores the importance of making resources available in a timely fashion not only to help locate missing women and girls, but to provide support services to the family members who have had their lives turned upside down.