By Moira Warburton
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian authorities will help fund mobile phone service to increase safety along a remote stretch of highway in British Columbia known as the "Highway of Tears" for the number of women who have gone missing on the route, most of them indigenous.
Indigenous groups recommended the move in 2006 in a report on disappearances and murders of women along the highway between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George, roughly 800 km (500 miles) north of Vancouver.
The recommendation was endorsed by a provincial government-mandated commission several years later.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating 13 cases of murdered women and five who disappeared on or near the Highway of Tears, although no new cases have been added since 2007. Advocates believe the number of homicides and missing is significantly higher.
Lisa Beare, British Columbia's minister of citizens' services, called the project "a critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies along this route."
Cell phone plans in Canada are among the most expensive in the world, according to government data, and the cost and lack of coverage in rural areas was a top issue in the last election.
The provincial and federal governments will contribute C$4.5 million towards the C$11.6 million ($9.24 million) cost for Rogers Communications to install 12 cell phone towers, the British Columbia government said on Wednesday.
Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, applauded the plan but said it was only one step in making the area safer for indigenous women.
"This truly is a blessing for the women," she said. "But not all women have a phone. These towers are being put up, but it makes no use to the person that has no cell phone."
($1 = 1.2558 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)