Missing and murdered women: A look at 5 cases not included in official RCMP tally
A 2014 RCMP report documented 1,181 cases, but Indigenous Affairs minister says number is 'way, way bigger'
Just how many missing or murdered indigenous women are there in Canada? No one can say for certain — and the numbers reported in recent days only add to the confusion.
The number 1,181 has been widely accepted after the release of a RCMP report in 2014. But that report doesn't necessarily provide a complete picture.
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The RCMP report only included police-documented homicide cases between 1980 and 2012, and did not count "suspected homicides or deaths deemed suspicious." Missing persons cases were only included if a woman was missing for more than 30 days.
After concluding the pre-inquiry phase into missing or murdered indigenous women, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Monday that "it's bigger than 1,200; way, way bigger than 1,200."
And Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu cited Tuesday a Native Women's Association of Canada effort documenting 4,000 cases. But the advocate conducting that research later clarified not all of those names were indigenous women.
Both Bennett and Hajdu noted that in pre-inquiry consultations with the families of missing or murdered indigenous women, they were told of deaths the families said were not properly investigated or deemed suicides despite suspicious circumstances.
Not including such cases is harmful for the families, said Audrey Huntley, the co-founder of No More Silence, an organization creating a community-run database documenting missing and murdered cases in Ontario.
"It is the continuity of societal indifference; it translates to 'she didn't matter,'" said Huntley. "That's how people perceive that, that their daughter or sister didn't matter."
A CBC News investigation last year into the unsolved cases of missing or murdered indigenous women identified more than 230 cases, including several that would not have been included in the RCMP report.
As we continue to track unsolved cases, adding more names to that database, here are five women's stories:
Nadine Machiskinic: The 29-year-old mother of four was found injured in a downtown Regina hotel on Jan. 10, 2015 and died the same day in hospital. She worked in the sex trade and struggled with addictions. Her family says police told them privately that the young woman died violently, plunging 10 storeys down a laundry chute at the Delta Hotel. Regina police issued a statement stating: "The investigation into the death of Nadine Machiskinic has revealed no indication of foul play." Machiskinic's aunt, Delores Stevenson, said that doesn't make sense. "A young aboriginal woman, who lived a high-risk life in the sex trade, ends up at the Delta Hotel at 4 a.m. CST, and falls down a laundry chute and it's not anything to be considered suspicious?" The investigation is still open.
Trudy Gopher: The 19-year-old was from Sunchild First Nation, a Cree community in Alberta. Her mother describes her as beautiful and young, and someone who took care of herself. Gopher was also a mother to a five-month-old baby. After attending a wedding celebration in May 1997, her body was found hanging from a tree. Her mother says police told her it was a suicide. "Nothing was done over her death because they automatically ruled it as a suicide," she said, adding that the police should have investigated the case more. CBC contacted the RCMP but they declined to clarify the status of the case.
Bella Laboucan-McLean: The Cree woman, 25, fell 31 storeys to her death from a downtown Toronto condo building on July 20, 2013. She had moved to the city from her home in northern Alberta in 2011 to study fashion design. Just before 5 a.m., the young woman went over the balcony. When officers arrived on the scene, they knocked on every door in the apartment building, but there was no answer at the unit Bella had been in. Around 5 p.m., 12 hours after Bella died, a man called police from the unit to report her missing. Detectives said they interviewed every person who was in the condo that night; all said they were not aware Bella had fallen. Toronto police say they do not have enough evidence to call the case a homicide, but there are no more leads to pursue. They're calling the case a suspicious death. The investigation remains open.
Rocelyn Gabriel: The 20-year-old woman hoped to go to school to become a nurse. She was found frozen outside a recycling depot in Portage la Prairie, Man., on the morning of Jan. 26, 2014. She was rushed to hospital, where she died that afternoon. RCMP have not released the cause of her death, nor have they deemed it suspicious. Her family believes foul play was involved.
Audrey Mary Desjarlais: In the early 2000s, Audrey left her family in Regina and relocated to Steinbach, Man. Her daughter, Barb Desjarlais, says Audrey always called to check in but those calls stopped in 2011. On June 15, 2012, the unidentified remains of a woman's body were pulled from the Red River. Little was known about this Jane Doe, except she was about five feet five inches tall, had long, dark hair, and was thin — just like Desjarlais's mother. She also had a full set of dentures — as did Desjarlais's mother. Then there was a police sketch that bore a resemblance to her mother. But also found with the remains was a necklace with a dolphin on it. "I had the matching ring," Desjarlais said. "My mother gave it to me when I was a teenager." Winnipeg police, however, did not order a DNA test, because they'd been told by Steinbach authorities that Audrey Desjarlais wasn't missing and had recently been seen in the area. In April 2015, after a CBC News report, the Winnipeg Police Service requested Barb's DNA. DNA tests confirmed the remains belonged to Audrey. Police are still investigating her death.
CBC News continues to investigate the stories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. If you know anything about these cases, or any other unsolved MMIW case, email firstname.lastname@example.org or MMIW@cbc.ca.