Criminal Law

MMIWG report chronicles loss of the ‘forgotten people’

By Staff

Most Canadians have no idea of the anguish endured by residents of remote First Nations communities, Kenora criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale tells The Lawyer’s Daily.

In an opinion piece for the online legal publication, Dale, principal of Dale Legal Firm, reflects on the release of the final report of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) national inquiry.

She tells The Lawyer’s Daily the report led to recollections from her own experiences in Kenora and of her paternal grandmother, who referred to herself as among “a forgotten people.’’

“The final report of the MMIWG national inquiry, published June 3, 2019, evokes mixed feelings. Do I believe that it is a genocide? No. Labelling it as such implies that there is a single villain.

“They are the forgotten people. Neglected and vulnerable to crimes of violence. I have been a criminal lawyer for 13 years. In that time approximately 15 of my First Nations clients have died. The majority were young Indigenous girls,” Dale writes.

“How did they die? Most died by homicide, suicide or overdose.”

She says First Nations clients make up 90 per cent of her Kenora practice and that office staff regularly travel to remote northern Ontario communities.

Pikangikum is the community her office frequents most, she says in the online legal publication, adding that the First Nations hamlet of roughly 2,400 residents is fraught with violence, including homicides and suicides.

“Sadly, death of young people is routine in Pikangikum and other remote First Nations communities,” Dale writes.

In 2012, Maclean’s magazine reported that Pikangikum was the “suicide capital of the world.” Maclean’s says that in 2011, the community had a suicide rate equivalent to 250 per 100,000 — nearly 20 times the Canadian average, and “far and away” the highest in the world.

It has been so for nearly 20 consecutive years, Dale says.

While the death of each of her clients affects her “profoundly,” one, in particular, stands out. It was the loss of a 14-year-old girl, who had been addicted to intoxicants since the age of nine, she says.

The teen, who she refers to as Lauren (not her real name) in The Lawyer’s Daily post, was initially charged with mischief and two counts of breach of a probation order but not detained, Dale says.

“At the time, court in Pikangikum was held in their hotel/restaurant. At one of Lauren’s court appearances, I was standing and speaking to a police officer about another client. I could see through the corner of my eye that Lauren was behind us, most likely waiting to speak to me,” she says.

“I began wrapping up my discussion with the officer when BAM — something hard fell on the back of our legs,” Dale writes.

“Lauren had passed out, falling face-first on the ground, her fall only slightly broken by the backs of our legs. The officer quickly assisted. Lauren came to, and when asked about the last time she ate anything, she replied ‘three or four days ago.’ She reeked of gasoline and was brought to the nursing station,” she says.

A week or so later, she faced new charges — assault with a weapon, assault and two counts of breach of an undertaking, and was detained.

In Pikangikum, detainees are flown out to Kenora to appear before a justice of the peace, Dale explains. She met Lauren in the cells the following afternoon and later the teen was released on consent with strict conditions and flown back to Pikangikum.

“Four days later, I received a call that Lauren had committed suicide. She hanged herself,” Dale said. “That week, court was cancelled. Court was frequently cancelled due to a death in the community.”

Two months later, while visiting a client in lockup in Kenora, she peered into the female cell and thought she saw Lauren.

“She seemed tired and didn’t respond to my questions. I ran to the office of the First Nations court worker to tell him that I had seen Lauren,” Dale recounts.

“We waited for the Crown to arrive, as the court docket had not yet been printed. The Crown told us that I had actually seen (her) identical twin sister.”

The teen would become a client.

“Through each election cycle, we hear about the quality of life on First Nations reserves in Ontario. The hardships are not caused by genocide. These cyclical tragedies are caused by factors beyond the scope of this article. The MMIWG is an important report,” she says.

“Most Canadians truly have no idea of the misery that is so much worse in remote First Nations communities — the forgotten people,” Dale concludes.

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