Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) says it does not have enough evidence to pursue criminal charges in the 1991 death of a 24-year-old Cree woman in Val-d'Or, Quebec.
The decision follows new inquiries conducted by Sûreté du Québec investigators earlier this year in and around the city situated 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
Last March, a spokesperson for Rose-Ann Blackned's family said the SQ had received new information about the woman's death and spoke with them in mid-February.
As many as five SQ investigators were put on the case, interviewing 15 people in four communities.
Blackned, a mother of two boys, was found frozen to death on Nov. 16, 1991, 10 days after an altercation with two people — a woman and a female minor — behind a motel where the three had been drinking.
Citing a pathologist's report from the time, the DPCP said Blackned suffered lesions from blows she received, but none of the injuries contributed to her death.
In a news release, the DPCP said the SQ's inquiries revealed "confusion and contradictions" on what happened after the altercation.
According to the DPCP, Blackned was still conscious, but had fallen into a creek. She called for help but the women involved in the altercation with Blackned eventually left the motel without looking for her.
People delivering beer to the motel later noticed her but didn't go to help, believing she was drunk and resting.
Blackned's frozen, snow-covered body was found 10 days later.
Coroner concluded hypothermia caused death
In his report, coroner Charles Letellier de St-Just listed her date of death as Nov. 7, 1991, and concluded that the cause was hypothermia.
The report stated she had also suffered injuries to her head and collarbone, a fractured rib and swelling to her face, but none was fatal.
Despite the ruling, the original detective in the case recommended charges.
Daniel Huard of the Sûreté municipale de Val d'Or, a local police force since replaced by the SQ, argued that the two individuals were the direct cause of Blackned's death because they "beat her and abandoned her."
The detective went on to say that "even though the injuries were not deadly, they contributed to weaken the victim, who died of hypothermia."
The DPCP's predecessor, the Substitut du Procureur général, decided not to pursue charges despite the detective's recommendations.
Evidence insufficient for charges, DPCP rules
In the news release announcing its decision not to press charges, the DPCP pointed to the coroner's conclusions and the confusion among those interviewed by the SQ about the events that night and determined that there was not enough evidence to support charges of criminal negligence or involuntary manslaughter.
As to assault, the DPCP said the beating of Blackned should have been pursued as a summary offence, but the Criminal Code dictates that summary procceedings must be initiated within six months of the alleged crime.
In its assessment, the DPCP also said the fact the two women did not come to Blackned's aid when she called for help did not amount to wrongdoing.
Under Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a person in distress has the right to be helped and anyone in a position to do so must make an effort to assist them.
However, to not do so, the DPCP notes, is not a crime.
"At the moment of the events, despite the fact the victim asked for help, she was neither unconscious nor injured in a way that left her incapable of moving," the DPCP said.
"Her drunken state prevented her from getting up. So, when she asked for help, the two women didn't have the duty to do so because, at that moment, the victim's life was not in peril."
Rose-Ann Blackned's family was contacted by CBC, but her son Silas Blackned said the family would only be speaking with reporters Friday.
The family met with prosecutors before the Crown released the information.
Afterwards, family members held a ceremony to honour her memory.