RCMP in Coquitlam are warning the public to “stop spreading unproven rumours” about missing women and alleged abduction attempts.
It comes amid widespread circulation of several videos on platforms TikTok and Facebook, alleging a connection between the disappearances of several women in the Lower Mainland in recent weeks.
Some of the videos also allude, without evidence, to possible human trafficking, a possible serial killer or a white van or other suspicious vehicle that is approaching women.
In a media release, Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Michael McLaughin said police were investigating one reported incident, but had seen multiple videos circulating online.
“We have an open mind, but so far there is no evidence to support that any abduction attempt has actually happened. If we see any real risk we will let the public know. In the meantime, we are asking you to stop spreading unproven rumours,” he said.
“Those rumours are scaring people.”
Bell, a 23-year-old mother, has been missing since Jan. 30, while Hunt, 48, vanished without a trace on Jan. 18.
“We’ve seen people drawing connections between situations and investigations that are completely unrelated and encouraging each other to carry weapons as a result,” McLaughlin said.
“Please don’t carry weapons, and don’t try to draw conclusions about crimes based on very basic information.”
Police said there are many reasons a vehicle may drive slowly in a neighbourhood that have nothing to do with abduction.
TikTok user @Pypcycle, who posted some of the most widely shared videos to TikTok, declined an interview suggesting “the women who have been directly affected should be the ones to have a voice.”
But she said she was motivated to post the videos after hearing about a recent break-in attempt at a friend’s home, and reports of an abduction attempt, along with online posts about missing women.
“Walking to my bus stop, I pass a number of missing persons posters,” she said.
“(I) figured if I said something and it got to the right woman it might make a difference and she could avoid a dangerous situation.”
The RCMP would know more than her about the situation, she said, but “but the comments section on my videos are telling another story.”
“I think that’s because there’s a large disconnect between the people and the police. Perhaps it’s even a larger more societal issue because women are scared for their lives just going to the grocery store.
@Pypcycle said the situation was “not a reason to panic” but that she would be carrying personal protection and wanted to spark a discussion about how society currently isn’t as safe for women as for men.
Battered Women’s Support Services executive director Angela Marie MacDougall called the RCMP response a “missed opportunity” to talk about the prevalence of sexualized violence in the community.
MacDougall said regardless of whether the claims in the videos are true — and she noted at least one report is under investigation by the RCMP — the fear that women are expressing on social media is real.
“What the reaction has been to the videos that we’ve seen … have been a reflection of the fear that I think is experienced by girls, young women, women, people of marginalized genders,” she said.
“Law enforcement plays an important role, but quite frankly, a smaller role in and what is actually a huge social problem that extends well beyond what the police or the legal system can manage or historically has been able to manage,” she added.
MacDougall said police do not have an excellent track record in investigating sexualized violence, and that women’s experiences have been all too frequently dismissed.
Social media, she added, has given women like @Pypcycle a new tool to express their concerns in a society where their experiences are frequently downplayed.
“I’m really happy for her to take action in this way and to use a platform that she has accessible to her and to draw her lived experience,” she said.
“Social media continues to be a vital place, a very important place where survivors can and people concerned can share their experiences and help start a conversation. And that is the best thing that we can do in terms of changing the culture is to make sure that we are having conversations.”
RCMP said anyone concerned about their safety should keep the following advice in mind:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings
- Avoid distractions (like your phone and earbuds) while you are walking or driving
- Avoid confrontations over driving behaviour or parking spots
- Wear bright clothing and obey traffic safety laws
- Walk with family or in pairs when in isolated areas
- Call police immediately if you feel unsafe or see a crime in progress
While police want people to stop sharing the videos, RCMP are urging anyone who believes themselves to be the victim of an abduction attempt or who believes they see one to call police right away.