Thunder Bay

'She was murdered': Mother of teen found dead in Kenora believes police got it wrong

The mother of Delaine Copenace, who was found dead in Kenora, Ont., in March, believes her daughter was killed despite a coroner's finding that the 16-year-old drowned.

"I want justice for my daughter,' Delaine Copenace's mother Anita Ross says, calls for inquest

"I truly believe somebody hurt her and put her there," says Delaine Copenace's mother Anita Ross. (Martine Laberge/Radio-Canada)

The mother of Delaine Copenace, who was found dead in Kenora, Ont., in March, believes her daughter was killed, despite a coroner's finding that the teen drowned with no evidence of foul play.

The 16-year-old First Nations girl was reported missing in Kenora on Feb. 28. Provincial police called off their ground search on March 14. Volunteers continued to look for Copenace in Kenora and Winnipeg.

Her body was found March 22 in Lake of the Woods. Two days later, Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner said they found no evidence of foul play in her death.

"I believe she was murdered," Anita Ross told CBC News. "I truly believe somebody hurt her and put her there and they have to look deeper into the cause, why, why she was there."

Ross said she believes stereotypes about Indigenous youth led police and the coroner to the incorrect conclusion that her daughter was depressed and engaging in risky behaviour on the ice. 

Delaine Copenace, 16, was found dead in Kenora in March after she had been missing for nearly a month. (Facebook)
When asked about what role race may have played in the investigation, a spokesperson for the provincial police said "we consider all people as equals and every investigation receives equal service."

But Ross said she feels racism may have led police to ignore the fact that Copenace never went out alone and always told her mother where she was going.

"I just want justice for my daughter," she said. "I don't want people to think she was just another Indigenous kid who didn't know which way was up and which way was down. She was a smart kid."

The grieving mother is calling for a coroner's inquest to deliver explanations as to how Copenace got from downtown Kenora out onto the ice without anyone seeing her and how the girl went through the ice when the daily searches found no holes.

Azraya Kokopenace, 14, was found dead in Kenora on April 17. Her family is calling for an inquest. (Ontario Provincial Police)
It's the second call for an inquest into the death of a First Nations girl in Kenora in as many days.

Marlin Kokopenace, the father of Azraya Kokopenace of Grassy Narrows, told CBC News on Monday that he wants an inquest into his daughter's death.

The 14-year-old disappeared on April 15 after walking away from the hospital in Kenora. She was found dead in a nearby wooded area two days later. 

Warren White, the Grand Chief of Treaty 3 First Nations, is supporting both families in their push for inquests.

The circumstances of the deaths are different, White said, but the parents' quest for answers is rooted in their sense of being ignored by systems that do not serve First Nations people well.

"It will be a life-long process of healing and accepting but at least in an inquest you'll have direct questions asked and ways of finding solutions," White said. "All we really want is a process where we get fair treatment in order to find those answers and closure."

The regional coroner said the coroner's investigations into the deaths of both teens are not yet complete and discussions are ongoing with the families.

"Anytime you have a young person dying in unexpected circumstances there are going to be added complexities," Dr. Michael Wilson said, adding the investigations could take months to conclude.