N.W.T. RCMP historical missing and murdered persons unit not staffed

N.W.T. RCMP are one year into the hiring process for a two-person unit that will investigate historical murdered and missing persons cases.

1 year into hiring process for unit to investigate historical murdered and missing persons cases

The N.W.T. RCMP cold case unit remains unstaffed despite being announced a year ago. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

One year after the N.W.T. Department of Justice funded a two-person unit to investigate historical missing and murdered persons cases, the unit is not staffed.

The territorial budget allocated $304,000 last spring to the cold case unit, but Northwest Territories RCMP are still hiring and transferring staff, stated RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon in an e-mail.

"The unit employees will require special skills and the RCMP wants to place the right individual in the right position for the best chance of success for the unit," York-Condon said.

During the hiring process, RCMP are reviewing files that could be considered for the historical case unit. RCMP declined the CBC's request for an interview and will not comment on how many cases are under consideration.

"Once the unit is up and fully staffed, with some understanding of the complexities of the files being investigated by the unit, we may be able to provide more information," Condon said.

As of 2018 there were 71 unsolved, historical missing and murdered persons cases in the territory and 63 were open investigations.

When the unit was announced, Indigenous advocate Gail Cyr supported the unit and its potential to help families know cases involving missing loved ones would be reviewed.

Gail Cyr had hoped the new RCMP cold case unit would have been up and running by now. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Families would benefit from dedicated systems to investigate old files and conducting interviews again, she said. Cyr hopes the unit will improve family contact and updates.

"It's getting better [but] it is still very behind," she said. 

"I remember in the 80s it just seemed like every couple of weeks, we had ... a person go missing or being found dead and murdered and it was bad," said Cyr. 

Families did not always have "compassionate or courteous discourse with police" and were concerned for the safety of their family members, she said. 

Cyr is eager for a strong community liaison to set expectations for families and their interactions with police and produce an annual report on files opened and action taken. 

She had hoped the unit would be staffed within six to nine months. 

Yukon's historical case unit already operating

As part of the RCMP major crimes unit, the unit will have access to other investigators to help with files and investigations as required, wrote York-Condon.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on how long the hiring process has taken.

Yukon RCMP say their historical case unit, funded around the same time the N.W.T.'s was, is fully staffed.

The unit included investigation of unsolved murders in its policing priorities for 2019.

The special units allow RCMP to dedicate time and attention to cases "where all investigative avenues have been seemingly exhausted, while still managing newer or more active cases," said Tania Vaughn, a spokesperson at national RCMP headquarters.

Old files are reviewed and assessed periodically for new avenues, techniques and technological analysis, said Vaughn.

"No unresolved missing persons case or unsolved homicide is ever closed," said Vaughn. "The RCMP pursues all investigative avenues in order to resolve cases and bring justice and closure to the families of the victim. That's what makes these units so important."

B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and N.W.T. RCMP divisions have historical homicide units.

Vaughn said the units in each jurisdiction were established in the following years: B.C. in 1996; Manitoba in 2000 (approximately); Nova Scotia in 2004; Saskatchewan in 2005; Yukon in 2018; and NW.T. in 2018.