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2016 Topical Reporting, Large Newsroom winner

Missing and Murdered

Indigenous women and girls exploited by gangs and victims of serial killers

Judges comments

A powerful investigation with immersive storytelling and strong user engagement.

About the Project

The Globe and Mail set out to investigate the tragedy of Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women in a way no other media outlet – let alone any level of government – has done before.

Indigenous leaders had long cried out for a national inquiry into the violence, which has rippled through communities with devastating effect over several decades. Canada’s federal police force released reports in 2014 and 2015 that indicated that more than 1,200 indigenous women had gone missing or had been murdered, but the Native Women’s Association believes this number is much higher. A national inquiry has since been called and is set to begin this summer.

In the meantime, The Globe has worked at lifting the veil on this issue by building its own database with information provided by the Native Women’s Association and others, telling untold stories and raising awareness.

We struck an advisory panel to consult indigenous peoples, and created a Facebook page so our stories would be seen by more of society. These stories have implications globally for indigenous peoples and human rights.

One of the first big reveals of our coverage was that federal plans for a national DNA databank for missing persons and unidentified remains pales in comparison to what is already being done in the United States.

We devoted a team of journalists and researchers to the cleaning and vetting of our data set, which has more than 1,100 names.

During the vetting process (which is ongoing), the team spotted a sinister pattern of serial predation.

Through months of reporting and unprecedented analysis, reporter Kathryn Blaze Baum and data-journalist Matthew McClearn were able to prove that indigenous women are vastly over-represented among serial-killer victims.

We found 18 cases involving eight serial killers, and made the landmark discovery that indigenous women were roughly seven times more likely to be killed by serial predators.

Our serial killer series took our research beyond a story about numbers to a story about people and the devastating circumstances that led five women into the hunting grounds of such predators. The result – a location-based multimedia interactive called The Taken – traced the lives of the women, from birth to their encounters with their killers.

The team conducted dozens of interviews with family members, authors, indigenous leaders and former law-enforcement officials. We went through court documents, case exhibits and reports, and filed Freedom of Information requests.

We broke news on old cases. First, we uncovered the indigenous identity of serial-killer Traigo Andretti’s second victim, Jennifer McPherson, whose family had allowed the police to identify her as Caucasian because they believed her case would be taken more seriously. We also revealed the lengths to which a serial killer will go to prey on indigenous women, including exploiting a free voicemail service for those who do not have a phone and are seeking employment.

The design of this feature took slide-based approach, and capped the amount of text on each slide so that the story would be delivered in digestible chunks that pull the reader through the piece. The approach was very successful, especially on mobile. The piece had unprecedented time spent on mobile compared to our other big projects, and a very high percentage of users read until the very end of each story.

It was built to accommodate multiple navigation options (swipe, scroll, next/back buttons, keyboard) depending on device and screen size. Because of the length of the experience, we built in a bookmarking option, as well as the ability to share individual slides.

A critical part of this feature was tracking and mapping the way in which the serial killer’s path intersected with their victim. These slide-based maps were critical in guiding the reader through the story. In order to make them as effective as possible, the map’s zoom level and centre point was manually adjusted for each slide, and tested across seven screen sizes to ensure a flawless experience no matter the device.

Our series led the government to include serial predation in the first phase of its national inquiry. The Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett deemed it “hugely important” that the country now had a clearer picture of the rate at which aboriginal women are being preyed upon by serial killers.

During the course of our MMIW reporting, it emerged that indigenous teens were living in dangerous situations while in government care. The Globe broke a major story when it found there were at least 10 foster children – most indigenous – staying at a Best Western just minutes from the stroll where human trafficking and drug use abounded.
We broke several stories on a litany of problems with the child-welfare system, including evidence of more hotel stays and questionable supervision.
Human trafficking surfaced as a major risk factor, leading to our next dig: The Trafficked.

Sex trafficking is an under-reported crime and Canada lacks a comprehensive system of data collection. Many of the statistics for our investigation were gathered piece by piece. The Globe combed through hundreds of pages of research papers and government documents and conducted more than 60 interviews with trafficked women, their families, police, researchers, advocates and front-line service providers.

Untangling how the government allocated spending to combat human trafficking was no easy feat: No overview was provided on where $25-million over four years was spent. After an interview request to the co-ordinating department was declined, The Globe contacted eight different federal departments to provide a picture of where the money went.

The Trafficked resonated with readers. A social video about one survivor had nearly one million views and appeared in over three million Facebook feeds.

Both The Taken and The Trafficked were widely discussed on social media, and shared by such organizations as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and ProPublica, and by renowned author Margaret Atwood.

We strove to give voice to those who have often been neglected by policy makers – the victims. With the inquiry imminent, it appears the readers, and the government, listened.