'Suspicious elements' of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook's death draw Ottawa police attention

An Ottawa police unit that normally investigates confirmed homicides is looking into "suspicious elements" of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook's death.

Gaps remain in timeline leading up to discovery of Pootoogook's body in Rideau River last week

The body of famed Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook was found in the Rideau River on Monday, Sept. 19, and the Ottawa police major crimes unit is looking into it. (Alexei Kintero)

An Ottawa police unit that normally investigates confirmed homicides is looking into "suspicious elements" of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook's death.

The body of the 47-year-old artist was found just before 9 a.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 19, by a city worker in the Rideau River near Bordeleau Park, which sits off King Edward Avenue, Cathcart and Bruyère streets in the Lowertown neighbourhood.

One of the leaders of the major crimes unit said Tuesday that while elements of the case aren't "sitting right," foul play hasn't been confirmed.

"… In this case, the general assignment detectives came to us … and we decided to take a closer look at it, as there were elements of it that needed further exploration that were somewhat suspicious," Staff Sgt. Bruce Pirt said.

"We're taking a look at suspicious elements of it. It doesn't mean there's foul play right now. It doesn't mean the whole thing is suspicious. There is just something about it that's just not sitting right, so we're going to take a closer look."

Pootoogook works on her art on July 10, 2013, in Ottawa. Police are still looking to fill in some gaps in the timeline leading up to the discovery of her body last week. (Alexei Kintero)

'Overwhelming public response'

Pootoogook was originally from Cape Dorset, an Inuit hamlet on the southern tip of Baffin Island in Nunavut, but was living in Ottawa. Her drawings offered a contemporary take on her culture, where old customs intermingled with modern technology and goods.

Her work is part of the collections at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario and was recently part of an exhibition on Indigenous pop art at Ottawa's Saw Gallery.

Autopsy results are in but the major crimes unit is still waiting for other test results, Pirt said. And while public response to the police call for help has been "pretty darn good," gaps still remain in the timeline leading up to the discovery of Pootoogook's body.

"[There's been] a good, overwhelming public response," Pirt said. "A lot of people liked her, a lot of people came forward trying to be helpful.… The problem is that with her nomadic nature, it's very difficult to pinpoint her last movements.

"The timeline has got some gaps in it and we're just trying to fill that in."

The cause of death is not being released, and police won't say what elements of the case they find suspicious.

Anyone who saw Pootoogook in the days leading up to Sept. 19 is asked to call the major crimes unit at 613-236-1222, ext. 5493. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).