A Western University sociology PhD student noticed a lack of national data and information-sharing when it comes to missing persons cases and decided to address it herself.
Launched in January, Lorna Ferguson says the reaction to the Missing Persons Research Hub has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m hoping that it will help people. That’s really the end goal, you know, for getting this going and for getting involved in this field,” she told Global News.
The hub works as a centralization location “for all things” related to the field of missing persons in Canada, Ferguson says, from education to communication to research and more.
“There’s a lot of great researchers, community activists, other scholars, law enforcement personnel — basically a bunch of groups doing great research and great work in this area — but we’re not really talking to each other. So I started the hub to get us all in this one location to start the conversation, to try and move the situation forward, to start preventing and reducing missing persons in Canada.”
The open-access hub includes a peer-reviewed research database as well as reports, policy documents, a discussion forum, a blog and a podcast.
Her PhD supervisor, Western sociology professor Laura Huey, says Ferguson is incredibly passionate about the project.
“She threw herself into this topic with a ferocity I’ve never seen. This is a second-year PhD student with no resources. This is something she started all on her own.”
Ferguson herself was the subject of missing persons reports when she was a self-described child and teenager and was once escorted home by police.
“It wasn’t dramatic. In fact, missing persons is often more mundane than we are led to believe from media reports. My parents told me to do things I didn’t want to do, so I took off,” she said in a release from Western University.
Missing persons cases can also involve seniors with dementia who wander and are found hours later or teens who leave group homes and return soon afterwards.
There are, of course, more tragic cases, as told to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“The inquiry found that untold thousands of Indigenous women – each person encompassing a story and a tragedy – have been killed or have disappeared across the years and generations of colonialism,” Western University adds.
The RCMP’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains reports between 70,000 and 80,000 missing persons cases annually, with most found within a week.
Ferguson is hoping the hub can lead to more evidence-based policy decisions or practices and protocols.
“That’s why I love doing research, just because I feel like I can truly have an impact, especially in the field of missing persons where it’s such an understudied and underfunded area in Canada. I mean, there’s been a lot of reviews and inquiries of late for the field of missing persons, but it’s not really gone anywhere,” she told Global News.
The hub is currently in the running for the CIBC’s Remarkable Students Competition, with voting open until the end of June.