Tracking down the missing. Chris Gignac and his group Guardians of our Angels, is shown July 26, 2019, with his bags packed for another mission to find missing children. The group also spreads awareness about human trafficking, child luring and sexual violence.
Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star
If a child is missing in Canada, Chris Gignac probably knows his or her name.The Windsor man whose own son once ran away has dedicated himself to finding missing people across the country with the use of social media and a vast group of keen-eyed, on-the-ground volunteers. They call themselves Guardians of our Angels Missing Persons Canada, and on Tuesday, they located a missing 12-year-old Windsor girl about an hour after their search began.“We have families from all over Canada right now sending us messages for help,” said Gignac on Friday. He runs the online group with his wife, Renee. “I don’t forget any of them.”A concerned citizen reached out to the group on Facebook about the missing Windsor girl after seeing a frantic post from the child’s mother, Gignac said. The mother had already reported the girl missing to Windsor police, so Gignac obtained the case reference number before meeting with the mother to begin a search. With a description of the girl’s appearance and clothing, and her last known whereabouts shared online, a handful of adults started knocking on doors at 8:30 p.m.By 9:41 p.m., they found the girl standing on a sidewalk a dozen blocks from home. She was looking at the house she lived in two years prior. Gignac called Windsor police to pick her up.“We are extremely committed to the missing and the forgotten in Canada, and we’ll do everything we can to get them all home,” Gignac said. He claimed his group had located nine people in Windsor over the past eight weeks, but acting Windsor police Chief Pam Mizuno on Friday was unavailable to comment on the group’s work. The force’s communications officer was also unable to comment.Police officers in municipalities across Canada where Guardians of our Angels Missing Persons Canada teams have located people have been thankful, Gignac said.
Renee and Chris Gignac of the group Guardians of our Angels are shown Friday.
Nick Brancaccio /
Thanks to the new Missing Persons Act in Ontario, as of July 1, people no longer have to wait 24 hours to report loved ones missing to police. Police also have new powers to obtain warrants and access records (hospital, cellphone and bank documents) without having to provide evidence a crime was committed in missing-person cases.Gignac’s 16-year-old son ran away and was gone for 13 months and six days, he said. He finally located and brought him home in March because others helped in the search.“I tore this city apart looking for (my son). I couldn’t find him (alone),” Gignac said. “I know the pain these parents feel. I want to help any way I can.”By building a larger online network of volunteers across Canada, he hopes missing people will be found faster. On Thursday night, he had a team of 37 people in Uxbridge looking for a 15-year-old girl who was last seen two weeks prior. That girl has yet to be found, but a video of Gignac sharing information about her that was posted Thursday had been shared almost 4,000 times by Friday evening.“We are the voice for the voiceless and the forgotten,” Gignac said. “Every share is another set of eyes. Every person talking is another set of ears.”In his organization’s Facebook group, he’s set up a private forum for the parents of missing children. Parents offer each other support there, and “help each other with grief,” Gignac said.The first group Gignac and his wife began, which has the shorter name of Guardians of our Angels, aims to spread awareness about human trafficking, child luring, and sexual offenders. The couple created that organization after seeing a Windsor man appear on a YouTube channel called Creeper Hunter TV in August 2017.The man, who was later convicted of child luring related offences, had been communicating online with the YouTube channel’s creator and video maker. The video maker pretended to be a 13-year-old girl.Gignac, a father of five, lived a block and a half from the man at the time. He held rallies outside the man’s home and outside Windsor police headquarters until police arrested the offender.“Enough was enough,” Gignac said. “We gathered up a bunch of our friends in the city and decided we had to do something.”Gignac said he experienced trauma himself as a child. Now, in addition to finding missing people, he tries to educate parents and give them the tools they need to keep their own kids safe.On that organization’s website (guardiansofourangels.ca) and social media pages, people leave tips anonymously about suspected child predators and human trafficking rings. Every tip they get goes straight to the RCMP, Gignac said. His days of public rallies are over.Related
His greatest asset to keep people safe now is social media.“Social media, I think, should not be used for what people had for dinner last night. It is the best tool out there for networking. I can band together a thousand people in an hour in any city in Canada on one missing person’s post.”According to Statistics Canada, last year, 31,387 adults and 42,233 children were reported missing. Roughly 90 per cent of cases in both groups were removed from the missing persons reports within one firstname.lastname@example.org/wstarcampbell