Frustrations with Quebec justice system laid bare at MMIWG inquiry

More than 25 years later, the death of Rose-Ann Blackned in Val-d'Or remains unsolved. Her sister told the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls she has lost faith with the Quebec justice system.

On Day 1 of Montreal hearings, families share stories of loss, frustration and healing

Rose-Ann Blackned was found beaten in Val d'Or, Que., in 1991 and later died in hospital. Over 25 years later, her family still has questions. (Supplied by family)

It took police nine days to find Rose-Ann Blackned's body under the snow, frozen in the fetal position, her hands covering her face.

She was assaulted by two people after leaving a bar on Nov. 6, 1991 in Val-d'Or, Que., according to the coroner's report into her death.

More than 25 years later, the case remains unsolved. Her family believes police didn't do enough to gather evidence quickly in the days after her death. 

"I have lost my faith in the justice system," Rose-Ann's sister, Mary-Ann Blackned, told the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on the first day of hearings in Montreal.

The family says it rarely heard from authorities until last year, when the case was re-opened following a CBC investigation.

The Crown announced last fall it didn't have enough evidence to lay charges.

"They told us that there is nothing more we can do," Mary-Ann testified. 

"It was really disappointing because I know who these people are. They were my friends growing up."

One police force, then another

Rose-Ann Blackned's case was initially handled by the Sûreté municipale de Val d'Or, the city's now-defunct police agency.

It was later taken over by the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, which has come under criticism for its treatment of Indigenous people.

The family said she was living in Val-d'Or because she had been banished by her home community of Nemaska, a Cree community located more 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal. The family says it's not clear why.
Commissioner Michèle Audette speaks at the inquiry in Montreal on Monday. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Kirby Blackned, Rose-Ann's brother, said the community needs to be held accountable as well, for not coming forward with information.

"I'm not angry anymore at the police. I'm not angry at these women," he testified. "I'm angry at the community."

After the family's testimony, Michèle Audette, the inquiry's commissioner, noted it was the first time the inquiry had heard a family speak about banishment and its consequences.

More than 70 people are expected to testify this week at the Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal — either in public, in private to inquiry staff or in writing.

Institutions under spotlight

The first set of hearings in Quebec were held last fall in the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, nearly 900 kilometres northeast of Montreal, on Quebec's North Shore.

Organizers expect a very different kind of testimony this week. Audette said the inquiry will likely "hear more about institutions, about policing in cities, which we usually don't hear up north."

The province's Viens commission, which is looking into the way Indigenous people are treated by police and other authorities, is also holding hearings this week.

Audette says the two inquiries happening at the same time is a good sign, as the Indigenous reality is important in Quebec, and there is a need for change.

Carleen Marie McDonald 'could make you laugh,' her sister, Cheryl McDonald, said during her testimony Monday. (Submitted by Cheryl McDonald)

Earlier Monday, Cheryl McDonald testified about the death of her sister. She believes her sister, Carleen Marie McDonald, committed suicide near their parents' house in Akwasasne, after struggling with alcohol and leaving her abusive partner. 

Her remains were found seven weeks later by a deer hunter, in the Mohawk territory straddling the Ontario, Quebec and New York state borders. A bottle of rum was by her side. A suicide note was found in the house.

Carleen left behind three kids.

She said sharing her sister's story and her own, so many years later, is helping her heal. She hopes, too, that it will add to the findings of the national inquiry, which aims at examining root causes of violence toward Indigenous women and girls.

In her testimony, Cheryl recalled how she had urged her sister to speak up about the abuse inflicted upon her which, at one point, was so brutal she had to be treated in hospital.

More from the inquiry:

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler covers politics, immigration and social issues for CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.