MMIW inquiry hears slain woman's family angry over sex-trade label
SASKATOON -- Family members of a slain Indigenous woman say they're angry that she's been labelled a sex-trade worker rather than a mother, a daughter and a sister whose death deserves justice.
Monica Burns's body was found on a snowmobile trail near Prince Albert, Sask., in January 2015.
Her brother, Pernell Ballantyne, told the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women on Tuesday that he's frustrated with the way the media has described Burns and other Indigenous women.
"Maybe if they would have thought about it and come up with a different word, maybe our women wouldn't be so targeted," he told the hearing in Saskatoon.
Ballantyne wore a T-shirt with a picture of Burns on the front and said the shirt has drawn comments from people on the street who recall that Burns was a sex-trade worker. That's been hurtful to Burns's young daughter, who will never have the chance to bond with her mother, he said.
"That really gets me mad because my niece has to deal with that, has to hear that."
Ballantyne also took issue with Burns's killer being allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter after being charged with second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison with three years of credit for time served.
"It was like the justice system ... rushed through just to get it over and done with."
The aunt of Nadine Machiskinic, who was found dead at the bottom of a hotel laundry chute, told the inquiry families are being repeatedly traumatized as they push for accountability in the justice system.
"I don't think any family should ever have to be put in that position to continually have to go before the media and be retraumatized over and over and over ... to have people listen and take accountability and acknowledge the mistakes that were made and acknowledge the things that were happening," Delores Stevenson said Tuesday.
Machiskinic was 29 when she was found at the bottom of the laundry chute at Regina's Delta Hotel in January 2015.
An autopsy report said the mother of four died of blunt force trauma to the head, neck and trunk consistent with a fall. Blood tests also showed Machiskinic had alcohol and a mix of methadone and three other drugs in her system, as well as high levels of sleeping medication.
The coroner's initial report deemed the cause of death undetermined, but the final report ruled the death accidental with no evidence of foul play and no evidence of suicidal intent.
"I had approached the coroner's office on many occasions and asked them how they had come to the conclusion, given the very little evidence they had, given the lack of investigation that was done," Stevenson said.
"How did they come to the conclusion that they were going to rule it an accident?"
It took police more than a year before they started looking for two men shown on surveillance video getting onto an elevator with someone who appeared to be Machiskinic.
Machiskinic's family has also questioned how she fit through the opening of the laundry chute, which was only 53 centimetres wide, and why it took police 60 hours to launch an investigation.
"Where is the justice in that?" Stevenson asked.
The jury at the coroner's inquest changed the finding again and said it could not determine the cause of her death.
"The trauma and the nightmare that my family had to go through to go from undetermined and, 2 1/2 years later, it's back at undetermined. I don't get it," said Stevenson.
She recommended to the inquiry’s commissioners that police not be allowed to investigate themselves, that there be more accountability for those who make mistakes in investigations and that more resources, including a fund set up for children that are left behind, be made available to families. Machiskinic had four children who are now being looked after by her family members.
“Whatever Canada, whatever the government decides to do with that information — whatever they decide to do with everything that’s presented to them — will be their action,” Stevenson said.
Marion Buller, the inquiry’s chief commissioner, thanked Machiskinic’s family for the testimony.
“It’s been very moving, very helpful and we’ll not forget her,” Buller said.
She did not comment on the resignation of inquiry lawyer Joseph Murdoch-Flowers or on concerns over staffing. Murdoch-Flowers quit on Tuesday and community liaison Morene Gabriel was fired last week.
More than a dozen people, including six in the last month, have been fired or quit from the inquiry.
-- By Jennifer Graham in Regina and with files from CTV Saskatoon’s Angelina Irinici