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Confidence lost in RCMP, says First Nation calling for external investigation into deaths of 2 girls

March 24, 2023

St. Theresa Point struggling with ‘rampant’ drug crisis, chief of First Nation in northeastern Manitoba says

The leaders of St. Theresa Point First Nation, a remote, fly-in community in Manitoba, say they need help to stop drugs from coming into their community after the deaths of two teenage girls, and they’ve lost confidence in the RCMP’s ability to get the job done.

CBC News: The chief of a northeastern Manitoba First Nation where two girls were found dead outside earlier this month says the community has lost confidence in the RCMP investigation and its ability to stop rampant drug trafficking. St. Theresa Point Chief Elvin Flett held a news conference Friday morning in Winnipeg to call for an external police service to look into the deaths of the two 14-year-old girls, Dayna Megan Madison Shingoose and Emily Marie Mason.

A man in a traditional First Nations headdress made of feathers and beads, and wearing a red shirt with black and white trim, sits at a table and speaks into microphones.
Chief Elvin Flett of St. Theresa Point First Nation wants a special coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Dayna Megan Madison Shingoose and Emily Marie Mason. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

He also called for a special medical examiner’s inquest into the deaths as well as past questionable deaths on the First Nation, saying people in the community “strongly suspect” the RCMP may not have properly investigated those deaths, but did not identify any specific questionable deaths.

Shingoose and Mason were found outside a home on the First Nation, about 460 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, on the morning of March 1. RCMP believe the girls were outside for a period of time on a night when the temperature dropped to –23 C. They were taken to the nursing station, where they were pronounced dead.

A young girl looks ahead at the camera.
The grandfather of Dayna Shingoose, 14, said his family is not sure whether drugs were involved in her death.(Submitted by Dawn Crystal Harper)

Autopsies haven’t been completed yet, but Flett said he and others firmly believe the girls died as a result of consuming illicit drugs. “It is a fair and justified assumption on our part that authorities will confirm this. Hypothermia is a secondary cause,” he said.

Family uncertain of cause of death

The office of Manitoba’s chief medical examiner told CBC News that a call for a medical examiner’s inquest cannot be made until the investigation is finished.

But Flett worries the autopsy results will just be a formality “to fulfil the legal and statutory requirements” without any accountability for the deaths. “It will merely become a statistic,” he said. “In these two deaths, the failure of authorities to pursue and lay charges to drug distributors responsible for the deaths is the failure of the legal system.”

Dayna Shingoose’s grandfather said his family is not certain yet what caused the teens’ deaths. “I don’t want to say that they did drugs. We’re not sure what they really did, what really happened,” Albert Shingoose said during a Friday interview.

He does agree that the influx of drugs coming into St. Theresa Point is a problem. “Chief and council have been trying to stop that for so long already,” he said. “It’s getting too much.”

A man with a leather cap, red t-shirt and black winter jacket is pictured in a hotel room in front of a missing persons poster.
Albert Shingoose, pictured in February as he searched for his missing daughter in Winnipeg, says his family will continue their search efforts once they are ready. (Josh Crabb/CBC)

The family is still struggling with Dayna’s death, he said, but has also had to deal with the disappearance of her mother, Ashlee Shingoose — Albert’s daughter — who went missing a year ago in Winnipeg. They’ll continue a search for Ashlee once they are ready, said Albert. “We’re coping with it. We’re getting a little better, but we still need to better ourselves.”

Investigation continues: RCMP

The investigation into the deaths of the two teens is ongoing, Manitoba RCMP said Friday, as they await autopsy results and toxicology reports. Island Lake RCMP have interviewed people in the community to try to piece together what the girls were doing on the night before they died, they said, and Mounties will continue to work with St. Theresa Point to try to stop the influx of illegal drugs into the community.

Targeting drug traffickers, especially those who move drugs from larger centres into remote communities, “remains a priority for the Manitoba RCMP,” a statement to CBC said.

Regional officials have been working with St. Theresa Point’s health director since early March to provide support, Indigenous Services Canada told CBC on Friday. With regard to the issues Flett raised Friday, an Indigenous Services spokesperson said the federal department will reach out to meet with the community’s chief and council to work on next steps.

Drug-sniffing dogs, body scanners

Flett wants the provincial and federal governments to meet with his community and negotiate an aggressive drug enforcement strategy. “Chief and council can no longer accept that the proliferation of drugs and harmful substances within our community can continue without significant pushback. We must protect and preserve our youth,” he said.

The community is prepared to enact its own safety and protection laws within ancestral lands, said Flett. That includes searching all members and non-members upon arrival at St. Theresa Point if they want their luggage and other belongings allowed into the community, which is only accessible by air or winter road. “St. Theresa Point First Nation will position itself to address the rampant proliferation of drug and substance abuse trafficking in our community,” he said.

Carlos Castillo, a vice-president of Perimeter Airlines, which serves northern communities, said the company will introduce drug sniffing dogs and body scanners to the Winnipeg terminal in the next few months, which was requested by Flett and other chiefs in the area. “I believe they acknowledge the help and assistance that we have provided. We want to take it one step further and improve in many areas, in all the areas that we can,” he told CBC.

The measures are being paid for by Perimeter and the First Nations.

St. Theresa Point Chief Elvin Flett held a news conference Friday morning in Winnipeg to call for an external police service to look into the deaths of the two 14-year-old girls.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the situation in St. Theresa Point and other First Nations communities in the province has become dire. More than a dozen First Nations have declared states of emergency this month, including a group of 11 on Thursday alone. There are a variety of reasons for the declarations, but one common denominator is addictions-related deaths.

“These deaths are related to the inaction of the governments on drug trafficking and lack of mental health and health services in our First Nation communities,” Merrick said. “Addictions have plagued their communities for far too long, with no crisis intervention or long-term solutions. That’s what we want, some solutions … And we need the resources to be able to help our young people, to be able to help families that are devastated by losing their loved one.” 

A woman with black hair and eyeglasses set on top of her head, wears a black blazer and with a pin on the lapel.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick says she will stand behind Chief Elvin Flett if his community enacts its own safety and protection laws in their ancestral lands. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Merrick said she will fully stand behind Flett if he implements customary laws to protect his citizens. “This community’s not asking for anything beyond what every other citizen in this country has: safety in their homes, health services and fair access to justice.”

With files from Karen Pauls