MMIWG families say police neglected and mishandled investigations into their cases

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WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

For Brenda Wilson, Tuesday will be a day when the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls can come together and support each other.

Hundreds of vigils will be held across Canada on October 4 to honor the lives of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people who have gone missing or been murdered.

Wilson’s 16-year-old sister, Ramona Wilson, disappeared in June 1994 from Smithers, British Columbia. His body was found 10 months later in a wooded area. The case remains unsolved.

« There are still no answers in my sister’s case, » Wilson said.

“Who did this to him? Who murdered her? Who hurt her? Who took it from us?

Matilda Wilson holds up a photo of her youngest child, Ramona, who disappeared in 1994. She wants justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder. (Radio Canada)

She was among several families to speak at a virtual press conference on Monday hosted by Families of Sisters In Spirit and Amnesty International Canada ahead of the annual Oct. 4 vigils.

Amnesty International Canada said the recent cases of Chelsea Poorman, Tatyanna Harrison and Noelle O’Soup in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia show that violence against Indigenous women and girls remains a crisis, with inadequate support from the community. police.

« Communication with law enforcement with family and community has broken down, which leads me to believe that no effort or resources are being invested in his case, » Natasha Harrison said.

The body of her daughter Tatyanna Harrison was found on May 2 on a yacht in Richmond, British Columbia, but was not identified until three months later. Harrison said police found the circumstances of his death not suspicious and closed the case, although they have not yet received the results of the toxicology tests.

A woman with dark glasses wears a gray shirt and a blue and white jacket. She wears a ponytail with reddish-brown hair and smiles at the camera.
A coroner’s report said Tatyanna Harrison, who is Cree and mixed race on her father’s side, died of ‘fentanyl toxicity’. (Vancouver Police Department)

Sheila Poorman echoed similar sentiments about the police handling of her daughter Chelsea Poorman’s case.

On May 6, the remains of 24-year-old Chelsea Poorman were identified after being found in a Vancouver mansion after months of searching by her family. The case was also quickly ruled not suspicious.

« They need to do a better job, » Poorman said.

chelsea poorman
Chelsea Poorman, a 24-year-old Cree woman, disappeared on September 6, 2020, after having dinner with her sister and attending a party at an apartment in Vancouver. (Submitted by Sheila Poorman)

The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls concluded that the violence experienced by women, girls and people of diverse gender identities amounts to genocide.

Of his 231 Calls for Justice, 11 were directed at police departments, including calling for the establishment of standardized response times to Indigenous reports and improved communication with families.

sheila poorman rally saturday may 28 2022
Sheila Poorman, Chelsea Poorman’s mother, held a rally in May at the Vancouver residence where her daughter’s remains were discovered. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

Josie August, a relative of Noelle O’Soup, wonders why no Amber Alert was issued when the 13-year-old disappeared from a group home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia in May 2021.

A year later, his remains were found in an apartment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. August said communication between the RCMP, Vancouver police and the family has been minimal and they learned more information from a recent CBC News report about the deceased occupant of the apartment.

« It’s like they don’t care about Noelle. To them, she was just another missing Native teenager, » August said.

« I find it very discouraging that we find more in the media than in the Vancouver Police Department. »

Noelle O'Soup is seen smiling at the camera. She has long brown hair.
Noelle O’Soup, a member of Key First Nation in Saskatchewan, fled a provincially run group home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, in May 2021, when she was 13. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

Police say ‘thorough investigations’ have been carried out

The Vancouver Police Department said in a statement to CBC News that in the past 10 years there is only one unsolved case involving a missing Indigenous woman.

“We have been working closely with the families of Chelsea Poorman and Tatyanna Harrison to investigate the circumstances of their disappearance,” said Sgt. Steve Addison, media relations officer with the Vancouver Police Department.

« Led by our Major Crimes Section, we have conducted extensive investigations to gather evidence of their last movements in Vancouver. »

Addison said a criminal investigation is underway into O’Soup’s death and police have met privately with his birth parents and the Department of Child and Family Development.

« Concerns have been raised about delays in notifying families of the discovery of loved ones. Each of these cases required DNA analysis to confirm identities, » he said.

« It would have been inappropriate and irresponsible to draw conclusions without scientific evidence. Once the remains of Tatyanna, Chelsea and Noelle were identified by DNA, we immediately notified next of kin in each case. »

Vigils bring strength, awareness

Wilson said police did not take her sister’s missing persons case seriously, and it is disheartening to hear that little has changed in 28 years.

« You think after all these years of standing up for MMIW, things would have changed…but as we see today, and as we hear the stories of all these families, nothing has changed, » she said. declared.

However, the October 4 vigils will be an important day for awareness, she said.

« It gives us the strength to be able to move forward and keep going, to keep raising awareness and to keep standing up for our loved ones. »

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