Families of missing persons in Winnipeg explore concerns with media, police

Families of four missing persons in Winnipeg find common ground in their searches, but recognize differences between indigenous and non-indigenous cases. Now they're looking for ways to breakdown stereotypes and negative perceptions in the community.

Indigenous and non-indigenous families face frustration with media, police in missing persons cases

(left to right) Bonnie Bricker, Angeline Nelson, Kyle Kematch and Connie Muscat speak with CBC's Marcy Markusa about their missing loved ones. (Kim Kaschor)

The families of four missing persons in Winnipeg are finding common ground and looking for ways to breakdown stereotypes and negative perceptions in the community.

"People enjoy blaming drugs, alcohol, suicide, mental health for why people go missing," said Connie Muscat, a friend of missing Winnipeg woman, Thelma Krull.

"When it comes down to it, when that is your brother, sister, your mother, those things don't matter, and they shouldn't matter to community members either."

57-year-old Thelma Krull went missing July 2015. (Krull family)

CBC brought together loved ones of Thelma Krull, Mildred Flett, Reid Bricker and Amber Guiboche—all subjects of open missing persons cases with the Winnipeg Police Service—to share their experiences around police, media and the community.

The conversation was sparked by 14-year-old Brianna Jonnie's letter to Chief Devon Clunis that said police could do better with indigenous people's missing person cases.

Police response in the case of 57 year-old Thelma Krull was swift, according to Muscat. The missing person file was opened the same day Krull went missing, and the family-led community searches were quick to follow.

Reid Bricker at a friend's wedding in 2014, one year before he went missing. (Submitted by Bricker family)

"It's absolutely imperative for the family of missing people to be involved right from the get-go and not to rely on the police and their resources," said Bonnie Bricker. Her son, Reid Bricker, disappeared in October 2015 but she said they lost valuable time when privacy laws kept information about their adult son from reaching them sooner.

Bricker said her family had to plead with police to open a missing persons file on her son, and even then the investigation was less urgent than they expected.

"We figured as soon as we told them he is missing they were going to send out this flood of people and start combing the area, and everything we said to go and do they would do right away," said Bricker. "We didn't understand how their system runs and what their resources are like."

Mildred Flett has been missing since June 8. She was last seen in Winnipeg's downtown area. ((Facebook))

Both Bricker and Muscat said the Winnipeg Police Service's helicopter was used in the search of their loved ones, a detail that stands out to Angeline Nelson. Nelson has been searching for her mother, Mildred Flett since 2010.

"I had never heard that before, and I even attended the pre-inquiry for the murdered and missing indigenous women, and not one of them ever mentioned having a helicopter involved in the search for their loved one," said Nelson.

Nelson said it was a struggle to get Winnipeg Police Service to take her mother's case seriously even after the missing persons report was filed. It took more than a month for police to issue a press release, which in the end led to problems with the media.

Nelson spoke with a Winnipeg reporter about her mother with the intent of getting the word out about her disappearance and said it was a de-humanizing experience.

"What [the reporter] ended up doing after she talked to me was portraying [my mother] as this severe alcoholic who would often go out and party. That's what they did to her," said Nelson.

"They used everything that they could against her, and just made it seem like she probably put herself in that position."

Amber Rose Marie Guiboche went missing in November of 2010. (Winnipeg Police Service)

Kyle Kematch said a local media outlet's article attributed quotes to him that he never said. They implied that his sister, Amber Guiboche, was a prostitute.

"Ever since then I haven't trusted the media," said Kematch. "When I do come and talk to [media] I ask them to please not call my sister a prostitute. It wasn't proven, but the fact of the matter is, even if she was, she's still a person."

That response was echoed by Muscat who said the Krull family was frustrated by the media's questions about Krull's mental health. She said Winnipeg reporters aggressively pursued a mental health angle even though Krull had no history of mental health problems.

Kematch's distrust of Winnipeg media extends to police. Despite his respect in the community as an organizer for Drag the Red, he said the only way to be heard as an indigenous man is through advocates such as Nahanni Fontaine, Manitoba's former advisor on aboriginal women's issues.

Kematch and Nelson both applauded the Winnipeg Police Service in their efforts to find Thelma Krull and Reid Bricker, but want to see the same deployment of resources for indigenous cases. Kematch was told early on by police that searching the river for his sister, Amber Guiboche, was not an option.

Kyle Kematch speaks about his sister, Amber Guiboche, who went missing in 2010. (Kim Kaschor)

"With them searching for Thelma Krull with the helicopters and everything—I like that, it shows that they do care," said Kematch. "It's just that they should keep that same motivation for all cases."

Muscat wants to see Winnipeggers with missing loved ones work together. "I think it does start with people who are forced into situations, like myself, to take a stand," said Muscat. "Every time that somebody goes missing now—it doesn't matter their race, their colour, their gender—I'm going to be there to offer my help."

Muscat, Kematch, Nelson and Bricker plan to stay in touch.

"Maybe instead of marching as aboriginal people and just individually as people that are missing, why don't we all march together? I'm a big supporter in not only change but making a statement."

CBC News