Inquest into missing person's death recommends better services for vulnerable women

An inquest into 27-year-old Deanna Desjarlais' death recommends changes in provincial policing standards on missing persons investigations.

Family believed police weren’t taking Deanna Desjarlais case seriously

The body of Deanna Desjarlais was found in 2016 in Surrey's Hawthorne Park, one month after she went missing. (Dana Mortenstein)

An inquest into 27-year-old Deanna Desjarlais' death recommends changes in provincial policing standards on missing persons investigations.

The jury in Coroner Brynne Redford's report concluded that it should be mandatory for all provincial and municipal police forces to assist with the identification of missing persons through the use of the Provincial Dental Data Bank.

Desjarlais came to B.C. from Saskatoon in late 2015 and had numerous contacts with health, justice and social services in the months that followed.

She was last heard from in April 2016, and her body was found in Surrey's Hawthorne Park a month later. She was not identified until September 2016.

A public inquest looking into the circumstances of Dejarlais' death was called in March.

At that time, family friend Dana Morenstein said news of the inquest brought mixed emotions for her — and Desjarlais' family.

"Happy that it's happening, but upset. It just brings up a lot of memories that are upsetting," Morenstein said.

Morenstein said police weren't forthcoming about details of the death of Desjarlais, a Cree woman, and that she and the family believed Desjarlais' death was not adequately investigated.

The coroner's jury made several recommendations, including:

  • Increased availability of low-barrier and publicly funded housing for Indigenous women as a harm reduction measure.
  • Increased culturally appropriate support services for Indigenous women.
  • Reduced jail time for minor offences.
  • An end to the practice of denying income assistance benefits because of existing warrants.

The jury also called on the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge to repurpose it's open living facility and turn that into transitional housing for vulnerable women being released from custody.

The cause of Desjarlais death was listed as undetermined but a possible drug overdose.

The inquest took just over a week, and heard from 30 people including police, mental health, and medical and government services.