Headlines·CBC Investigates

Family doubts 27-year-old Tanya Hill's death was an accident

The 2011 death of Tanya Hill is one of dozens of cases across Canada where police say there is no evidence of foul play, but where the families of Indigenous women maintain their loved ones may have been murdered, a CBC News investigation has found.

Tanya Hill’s family has questions about her 2011 death and the official conclusion that it was accidental

A family photo of Tanya Hill. (Rhonda Hill-Maracle)

Tanya Hill was 27 years old when she was found dead, face-down and nearly naked, in her Barton Street East apartment in Hamilton.

And even after five years have passed, her family has been asking questions about the circumstances of her death and the official conclusion that there was no foul play.

Hill's death on March 5, 2011, was deemed accidental, the result of toxic alcohol levels in her system, according to the official coroner's report her family received.

The coroner found her blood alcohol level was at a "fatal level" of 450 after a night of drinking with her boyfriend and other friends.

'My girlfriend was killed last night'

But that coroner's report also states on the day Tanya's body was found her boyfriend told police, "My girlfriend was killed last night."

Tanya's aunt: 'From the first time I went in that apartment, I knew'

6 years ago
Duration 2:55
Family doubts 27-year-old Tanya Hill's death was an accident 2:55
Family members believe there's more to the story, and that officials didn't take the opportunity to investigate further.

"They made up their idea about who she was, I guess – a Native, drunken Indian," said Tanya's mother, Rhonda Hill-Maracle.

"That's what was so disheartening," said Wendy Hill, Tanya's aunt. "Not only the fact that she died but how they treated us and how they thought of her. How they thought of all of us."

Photographs and memories adorn a poster put together after Tanya Hill's death in 2011 at the age of 27. (Rhonda Hill-Maracle)

34 cases across Canada

Hill's death is one of 32 deaths and two disappearances of Indigenous women across Canada, investigated by CBC News, in which authorities ruled there was no foul play.

Despite official rulings of suicide or accidental death, CBC News has found evidence in some cases of unexplained injuries, suspicious circumstances, failure to interview key witnesses and persons of interest who have never been convicted.

The pan-Canadian CBC News analysis has found:

  • Ten of the women had unexplained injuries, though officials claimed they did not contribute to the deaths.

  • Seventeen of the women were involved in domestic and family violence, where families insist there was a clear suspect.

  • Six of the women were found nude or partially clothed in suspicious or anomalous circumstances.

  • In 31 of the cases, a person of interest was identified at some stage either by police or family members, but none was ultimately judged responsible for the death.

  • In five of the cases, coroner findings and police determinations appear to be in conflict with each other.  

In 25 of the 34 cases, families say they felt racism and assumptions about the woman and her lifestyle hampered the investigation.

"It leaves the families with no answers and a lot of unresolved grief. They're still grieving because they have no resolution," said Gail Gallagher, senior manager of violence prevention with the Native Women's Association of Canada.

A family photo of Tanya Hill. (Rhonda Hill-Maracle)

'The case became more complex'

A coroner's report was clear on the cause of Hill's death.

"There was no visible trauma to the body," the report states. "There were many empty bottles of alcohol in the apartment."

But some of the details in the report raise questions for Hill's family.

One: She was found naked except that the shirts she was wearing were pulled up over her head.

There were two marks on her abdomen "that were unexplained but that would not have caused death," according to the coroner's report.

And then there were the details about Hill's romantic partner. Family members told CBC News that she had told them she was leaving her partner within days.

She was planning to leave her partner and to move home, to Six Nations near Brantford, her mother said.

But she hadn't yet left when she died.

(Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner)

"The case became more complex when her partner presented himself to Hamilton Wentworth Regional Police and seemed to be confessing to causing her death," the coroner's report states.

It goes on: "There was a long history of domestic violence between the deceased and her partner."

The coroner's report says after that conversation between the partner and police, the investigation was temporarily turned over to police detectives with the Major Crimes unit.

Hamilton Police did not address questions about the interaction between police and Hill's partner. They say they are not conducting a criminal investigation.