Indigenous·CBC Investigates

Police finding in Ashley Machiskinic's death disputed by family, former Vancouver officer

Even in retirement, there are police findings former Const. Dave Dickson will not accept. The Vancouver Police Department's assessment that Ashley Machiskinic did not die in suspicious circumstances is one of them.

Indigenous woman fell from the 5th floor of hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2010

Ashley Machiskinic, 22, died after a five-storey fall from the window of a hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Even in retirement, there are police findings former constable Dave Dickson struggles to accept. The Vancouver Police Department's assessment that Ashley Machiskinic did not die in suspicious circumstances is one of them.

On Sept. 15, 2010, Machiskinic fell to her death from the fifth floor of the Regent Hotel in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. She was 22.

"Ashley came out of the window … with such force that she went right across the alley and landed about 10 feet in between that telephone pole and the manhole there," Dickson said, while standing where Machiskinic took her last breath.

Dickson believes someone forced her out the window.

"Two women told me they were in the room just before Machiskinic went out the window," he said.

Retired Vancouver police officer Dave Dickson stands in the lane where Machiskinic died. Dickson says he believes the young woman was pushed or thrown from a window of the Regent Hotel. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Both women had left by the time she was dead. They said they chose to leave because they were afraid of men who were in the room with them, said Dickson.

"These are pretty tough girls, so for them to have to leave because they were getting concerned was indication to me that something else happened," he said.

The 28-year veteran Downtown Eastside beat police officer met Machiskinic when she was 15, and Dickson said he knows in his heart she would never have taken her own life.

"I felt that she was thrown out … down here that happens," he said.

"I mean, there are people — women especially — that sort of get the short end of the stick. They get their heads shaved, they get beaten, they get sexually assaulted, actually, for as little as a $30 or $40 drug debt."

Lack of evidence in case

Coroner Lisa Graham could not determine if Machiskinic was the victim of foul play, owing to the lack of evidence, but in her report, she stated that several people were interviewed by police, including some who were alleged to have caused Machiskinic harm. 

Toxicology tests also showed Machiskinic consumed alcohol prior to her death.

Dickson said it's only fair to acknowledge limitations that naturally exist for police.

"Unless someone comes forward who was in the room, there is little they can do," he said.

Machiskinic's grieving mother, Brenda Strongarm, said she believes her daughter was murdered.

Through tears, Strongarm said she wants more investigation into Machiskinic's five-storey plunge — what happened to her and who is responsible for it.

Standing near the alley where her daughter died — she was too shaken to go to the exact spot — Strongarm said that witnesses she spoke to have suggested Machiskinic's killer was among people coming and going from the room at the Regent Hotel.

In the aftermath of Machiskinic's death, cousin Mona Woodward went to the alley to lay down spiritual tobacco and smudge.

Mona Woodward says Ashley Machiskinic's family members are still grieving six years after her death. She visited the alley to say prayers and lay down sacred medicine for the Cree woman who died on Sept. 15, 2010. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

"I was praying that she was happy, that she was in a better place," Woodward said, holding back tears.

At the time of Machiskinic's death, neighbourhood activists alleged she was pushed out the window for failing to pay a drug debt.

"I hope they find out who is responsible and that justice can be done for her. We've experienced a lot of anger, a lot of pain and a lot of frustration," Woodward said.

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Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea?