'This is why she is still missing': Sister reflects on Indigenous woman's disappearance from northern Ontario

Vanessa Brousseau is searching for answers and accountability 14 years after her sister Pamela Holopainen went missing in Timmins, Ont.

Vanessa Brousseau says police didn't take her seriously when she reported her sister missing

Pamela Holopainen was 22-years-old when she went missing in 2003 from Timmins, Ont. (Vanessa Brousseau )

Vanessa Brousseau scans the background of TV news reports hoping to catch a glimpse of her sister.

Instead of looking for blueberries in the bush, she said she looks for bones. 

"You look everywhere for her," Brousseau said.

"I remember chasing somebody in the Toronto airport because I thought it was her. It wasn't."

Pamela Holopainen, 22, was last seen in Timmins, Ont., leaving a house party in December 2003.

She is one of seven documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women from northeastern Ontario.

Brousseau, who was 25 at the time of her sister's disappearance, said she was told Holopainen got into an argument and planned to walk back home to Schumacher.

She said she called Holopainen the following day, but her voice mail was never returned.

She tried to drop off Christmas presents for Holopainen's two children from their grandmother the next day, but no one answered the door. 

Christmas came. Still, no word from Holopainen. 

Family told 'she was probably out drinking'

Brousseau started to grow frustrated. 

She said she and her sister were closer than best friends, and usually talked three to four times a day. 
Vanessa Brousseau (left) describes her relationship with her sister Pamela Holopainen (right) as closer than best friends. (Vanessa Brousseau)

Brousseau said she and her mom reported Holopainen missing after New Year's Day.

But Brousseau said a missing person's report was not immediately filed. 

"We were told that she was probably out drinking, and give it a few days," Brousseau said.

Weeks went by without any contact from police, according to Brousseau.

Then investigators asked for a meeting with the family. 

Brousseau said they accused Holopainen of being a prostitute in Hamilton, which she said was not true in the end.

"My sister was a good mom. She had a good job. She was a good person. I don't know why they would think she's a prostitute and drinking," Brousseau said.

"There's not much you can do when the police are saying this to you, and you don't realize how bad it is until later."

'Don't want to believe it's true'

Ontario Provincial Police took over the investigation shortly afterwards. 

Brousseau said they found evidence of blood on the walls, floor and door of her sister's apartment. 

"You don't want to believe it's true," Brousseau said.

"You hope she ran away, but you know she would've took her kids."

Since then, Brousseau said she has tried everything she could think of to find her sister.

Brousseau said she has travelled across Ontario to meet medicine people, psychics and even the American television medium Theresa Caputo. 

"There's hard seasons too like the spring and the fall because of the hunters," Brousseau said.

"As much as I pray that we find her or her remains, it's still hard for it to become a reality."

'Has to be some accountability and some acceptance'

Holopainen's case is back in the hands of Timmins Police.

The service declined CBC's request for an interview, but spokesperson Kate Cantin wrote in an email statement that police review Holopainen's case on a regular basis.

Brousseau said the investigation has come a long way over the past 14 years with improved communication from police.

But she still has concerns. 

"I believe that because she was an Aboriginal woman that this is why she is still missing," Brousseau said. 

"I want things to be different, but in order for that to happen there has to be some accountability and some acceptance, admittance of where they went wrong and what they went wrong in order for anything to move forward.

"If they would've taken it seriously when I reported my sister missing, they probably would've had a lot more evidence."

Challenges with National Inquiry into MMIWG

Brousseau is trying to find closure, but said this has probably been one of the worst years because of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

She said she tried to attend a meeting in Toronto to tell her sister's story, but was told she could not go.

"They told me that they can't afford to send me to go meet with them off their $53 million budget," Brousseau said.

"On top of that I'd have to take my own time off of work and get myself there in hotel and stuff to cry. When you look at it that way, no."

Brousseau said she wants to see the inquiry go to the families and work around their schedules.

Instead of holding meetings during the week, she wants to see them on weekends and wants to see the commissioners put the families first. 

"You want to have an inquiry? Well, make it worth it then," Brousseau said. 

"Don't make all this pain for nothing."

Tune into CBC Sudbury's Morning North at 7:20 a.m. ET during the week of October 23 to hear a new series called Unresolved, about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from northeastern Ontario. Listen live here.


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: