Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
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UPDATE: Inquest called in death of Indigenous woman who fell down Regina laundry chute

The investigation into the death of Nadine Machiskinic was marred by a stunning series of mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities, according to her family.

"It's a shitty investigation in my opinion. I'm sorry for the words," said Machiskinic's aunt, Delores Stevenson.

“She was a human being … and she deserves just as much as anyone else — answers into her death,” she added, “not a bunch of holes and gaps that can’t be explained.”

On Jan. 10, 2015, Machiskinic fell 10 storeys down a laundry chute at Regina’s Delta Hotel. She died in hospital a couple hours later.

Last month, a Saskatchewan coroner concluded her death was an accident and Regina police closed the investigation.

That’s despite the fact that they have been unable to identify four of the last five people believed to have seen Machiskinic in the final 40 minutes of her life. As well, the autopsy report concluded that Machiskinic was too intoxicated to get into the laundry chute on her own.

But an another autopsy, which disputes the findings of the first, included a second opinion — offered by Graham Jones, chief toxicologist with the Office of the Medical Examiner in Alberta — that casts doubt on the original finding that the cause of death was undetermined.

Jones said he could not be confident that Machiskinic was unable to get into the laundry chute on her own.

"Given Ms. Machiskinic's history of chronic alcohol and drug abuse and the fact she was prescribed relatively high doses of methadone, I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that she would have been incapable of climbing into the laundry chute without assistance," Jones wrote.

Last month, Saskatchewan's chief coroner, Kent Stewart, released his final report, which concluded Machiskinic's death was an accident. His conclusion appears to have been swayed by the Alberta expert's second opinion.

"The police should have been believing this is probably a homicide — it's not an accident," said Tony Merchant, a lawyer representing Machiskinic’s family in a lawsuit against the hotel.

Merchant said at every stage, the investigation seems deeply flawed.

"Everything seems to indicate that this was a slow walk; uninterested investigation," he said.

“They’ve closed the investigation and say, ‘We have determined there’s no foul play,’ when anybody looking at the facts would say all the indications are foul play.”

Police called in 60 hours after Machiskinic died

According to the coroner’s report, Machiskinic arrived at the hospital unconscious with cracked ribs early on a Saturday morning. But the coroner didn’t call in police.

Stewart said that’s because no one told the coroner on duty how and where Machiskinic’s body was found. He said ordinarily, that sort of information would be passed on by police.

"I would have anticipated with a 911 call, aside from the ambulance showing up — my understanding is that generally police show up at the same time too," said Stewart. "I don't think that that happened in this particular circumstance."

Regina Police Service spokesperson Elizabeth Popowich said police didn't come to the hotel or the hospital that morning because they weren't called — which, in hindsight, is unfortunate.

"It would probably be an easier conversation because then we could say we were there right from the very first moment if we had been called," said Popowich.

Eventually, on review, the coroner’s office did call in police on Monday, about 60 hours after Machiskinic died.

Autopsy concludes cause of death ‘undetermined’

The pathologist who examined Machiskinic’s body a few days later concluded she had died as a result of blunt force trauma to her head, neck and trunk, caused by the fall.

She also found that Machiskinic was severely intoxicated, mak[ing] it unlikely that she would have been able to climb into the laundry chute on her own.” That led to the conclusion that “her manner of death should be listed as undetermined." 

Four police officers came to the autopsy and were given samples for toxicological analysis. However, instead of sending them to the lab, police put them in storage for six months.

Popowich admits this was a mistake that was caught by the chief coroner when he was following up on the toxicological results.

"We regret the anxiety that it's caused [the family] and that it obviously left them for a longer time without answers and a conclusion to the case," she said.

Police took a year before tracking down potential witnesses

Popowich also acknowledges that a whole year went by before police attempted to track down two men who were shown on surveillance video getting on an elevator with Machiskinic just a few minutes before she plummeted to her death.

Merchant said that is a stunning and inexcusable oversight.

"It was obvious to look for these two men," Merchant told CBC's iTeam. "The first thing you would do — even if you've only ever watched television — is look at the [surveillance] tapes. You don't have to go to a police school to be taught that."

Popowich couldn’t explain the apparent delay but said police were likely busy following up on other leads.

The Regina Police Service is busy, she said, and officers "don't have the ability to establish a moratorium on all other crime in the city. So there's a limit to the resources you can put on it, right?"

Stevenson said this revelation further confirms to her that "Nadine never got a fair chance at an investigation."

Mysterious men still a mystery

Police never did track down those two men who got on the elevator with Machiskinic.

"The fact is no one can say for certain … what happened in those last few minutes," Popowich said. "We only have the evidence, and the evidence doesn't indicate foul play."

Those men aren’t the only unidentified people to have made an appearance during the last few minutes of Machiskinic’s life.

The coroner's report highlights another issue that raises questions about two mysterious “kids” who were seen with her on the hotel floor from which she fell.

According to a review of the police investigation by the Public Complaints Commission, there was only one person staying on the floor that night.

He reportedly told police that an intoxicated Aboriginal female matching Machiskinic’s description "had been yelling in the hallway of the 10th floor and was banging on doors, including his."

He said she was yelling about a fire. Someone had also pulled the fire alarm on the floor.

2 ‘kids’ with Machiskinic shortly before her death

But the coroner's report adds a puzzling detail to this narrative, indicating that the witness "saw two 'kids' behind her."

Stewart said he has "no idea" who those kids were or why they were with Machiskinic in the hotel in the middle of the night.

Police don't know, either.

"I don't think we have been able to successfully identify who they were or if they were there at that hour and, in the confusion, whether they even were there," said Popowich.

Merchant said despite the mistakes, delays and lack of diligence, police have shut down the investigation, and there’s nothing the family can do about it.

“There’s no compensation that can be paid to the family or no redress available to them,” he said.

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CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.