First Nation seeks external investigations into deaths, drugs
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The chief of St. Theresa Point First Nation is calling for an external investigation into the deaths of two 14-year-old girls, saying RCMP haven’t done enough to stop the flow of drugs into the northern Manitoba community.
The bodies of Dayna Megan Madison Shingoose and Emily Marie Mason were found March 1 outside a home in St. Theresa Point. RCMP said at the time the pair had been exposed to temperatures as low as -23 C for several hours overnight before they were discovered in the morning.
However, Chief Elvin Flett said hypothermia was a secondary cause of death — the first being drugs flowing into the community.
“In these two deaths, failure by authorities to pursue and lay charges to drug distributors who are responsible is a failure of the legal system,” he said at a news conference Friday morning.
Flett called for an investigation (outside of RCMP efforts) by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and a full inquest by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“Sadly, the required processes have become merely that: process, to satisfy and fulfil the legal and statutory requirements,” he said.
“In the end, these processes usually end with nothing, no explanations to the First Nation as to what actions will be taken to prevent these things from happening again.”
St. Theresa Point has been told it could take up to a year to determine the specifics of the two girls’ deaths, Flett said.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the decision to hold an inquest will be made after its investigation into the deaths is completed.
St. Theresa Point leadership has lost confidence in the RCMP’s ability to both investigate drug-related deaths fully and keep drugs out of the First Nation, Flett said.
“We have strong suspicions other youth deaths may not have been investigated properly,” he said, not naming any specific cases.
St. Theresa Point is located 460 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and is only accessible by air or temporary winter roads.
Its leadership is eyeing a return to searching the bags of anyone entering the First Nation for contraband, often methamphetamine or unprescribed prescription painkillers.
It had done this successfully in the past but was told to stop by provincial officials, Flett said.
“When we confiscate drugs at the airport, the police say, ‘We can’t do anything about it, we’re not charging these people. Why did you acquire these confiscated drugs without proper process of the law?’” the chief said.
“But that’s our law, our police officers confiscate the drugs. If the RCMP are not partnering with the First Nations security measures, what’s the purpose of having RCMP there?”
The province is considering an expansion to the First Nations safety officers program, but adding a random search process would go beyond their scope, a spokesperson said in an email.
“The government of Manitoba is committed to safe communities, however, the random search of luggage raises a number of complex constitutional issues that relate to privacy interests and Section 9 constitutional rights,” he said. “The prosecution of drug offences remains an area of federal jurisdiction, and any advice related to drug searches and enforcement would fall to the public prosecution service of Canada.”
The question of how to better stop drugs from entering communities is one nearly all First Nations that use air services are asking, said Perimeter Airlines president Joey Petrisor.
The company is pushing for federal funding to purchase a body scanner, similar to larger airports. It’s also investing in using drug-detection dogs at its Winnipeg terminal in the coming months.
“It’s something we understand that we’re a large part in, in trying to help these communities because when you go up and you listen to the stories, it’s very hard to hear some of the hardships that these folks face,” Petrisor said.
The 11-member First Nations of the Keewatin Tribal Council released a joint statement on Thursday declaring a regional state of emergency caused by the impacts of opioid addiction, underfunded health-care services, suicide and other struggles prevalent in remote northern communities.
The decision by a First Nations community to declare a state of emergency comes from a place of desperation, said AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick.
“When the province declares a state of emergency, it triggers everything. It triggers the Red Cross to go into communities, but when we declare a state of emergency, we have to beg for services to come into our communities — and that’s not right,” she said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.