Annie Pootoogook suspicious death investigation expected to be inconclusive
Ottawa police investigation into suspicious death of Pootoogook started 13 months ago
Ottawa police are close to completing their report into the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, one that sources tell CBC News will be unable to pinpoint an exact cause of death because of a lack of evidence.
The body of Pootoogook, 47, was discovered in the Rideau River near Bordeleau Park on Sept. 19, 2016.
Her death and the subsequent investigation drew significant attention because of her status as an internationally renowned artist, and also because of a controversy surrounding an Ottawa police forensic officer who posted racist comments about her death.
Veldon Coburn, the adoptive father of one of Pootoogook's children — and also the person who brought the officer's offensive comments to the attention of the media — said that despite being initially critical of the investigation, he is now satisfied with the work police have done.
Cause of death uncertain
He has spoken regularly with investigators and said they've been preparing him to accept an inconclusive finding.
"One of the things that they said is they can't actually determine the cause of death. There were two autopsies [but] they can't determine if she was drowned by herself or by someone else," Coburn said.
Investigators also told him that because Pootoogook was found in the water, gathering evidence such as DNA was difficult, he said.
"The indication that I received was that the recovery of evidence wasn't as promising. The environment that Annie was found in made it difficult to determine the cause of death."
Police assured Coburn they had pursued all leads about potential suspects and that alibis checked out, he said.
"I was assured they took it seriously and that they did put whatever resources they could into investigating Annie's death."
Not knowing 'the worst part'
Pootoogook was living with her long-time partner William Watt around the time of her death.
Watts told CBC reporter Jorge Barrera Tuesday that he has dealt with her death.
"Not knowing what happened is the worse part. I've been in the dark for a year," Watt said outside his apartment.
The questions around Pootoogook's death have been difficult for Oolooriaq Mike, a 28-year-old from Iqaluit who lives in Ottawa.
"It's best for the family and friends to know. It's just hard, it's just hard, I don't know why and how," she said, her voice swelling with emotion.
Mike said Pootoogook's death was unexpected. She thinks of her when she makes art and prays with her dreamcatchers.
"We were going to do some art together. She taught me how when I was growing up," Mike said.
Though police are expected to finish the report into their 13-month investigation, the case itself is not "closed," and investigators will always be open to pursuing leads when new information comes in, according to a senior officer with the Ottawa Police Service.
Coburn said he's struggling with not having any answers for his five-year-old daughter Napachie when she's old enough to inquire about her biological mother's death.
Although Coburn is satisfied with the police investigation, he said he's not certain Pootoogook's relatives will feel the same way.
With files from Jorge Barrera, Matthew Kupfer