The RCMP have arrested an Alberta man in connection with the killings of two indigenous women whose remains were discovered several years ago – proof, the federal police force says, that historical cases like these are not forgotten.
A 59-year-old man was expected to be charged on Wednesday with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jeanette Jean Chief, 48, and Violet Marie Heathen, 49, who were killed in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Alberta RCMP spokesman Corporal Hal Turnbull said the investigation is continuing and further information would be provided at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday, including the accused’s name and a “tighter timeline” of the two cases.
Both of the women were from Saskatchewan’s Onion Lake Cree Nation and were killed in Lloydminster, a city of about 30,000 that straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Ms. Chief was last seen in Lloydminster around midnight on Saturday, June 2, 2007; four days later, police found her body in a rural area outside of the city. Ms. Heathen was last seen outside a Lloydminster bar, getting into a truck with Saskatchewan licence plates on May 15, 2009. Her remains were found six months later near Kitscoty, an Alberta village about 25 kilometres west of Lloydminster.
“I have so many mixed emotions,” Ms. Heathen’s sister, Ruby Whitstone, wrote on her Facebook page. “I’m in shock and relieved at the same time. It’s like what I said before, ‘salt poured to an open wound.’”
The arrest was the culmination of a joint effort by RCMP investigators in Alberta’s historical homicide unit and Saskatchewan’s historical case unit. Cpl. Turnbull told The Globe that police in the Lloydminster area are reviewing other cases for possible connections to the 59-year-old. Asked whether the RCMP believe the man is involved in other homicides, he said the force is “open to all possibilities.”
Cpl. Turnbull said the arrest will not bring back the two women, but he hopes the development will usher some relief for their grieving families. “These cases are not forgotten,” he said. “Some cases are just plain hard and difficult, and require the extra time.” He would not speak to the wider issue of Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women, saying a national inquiry into the violence is under way. The RCMP released an unprecedented report in 2014 on the issue, revealing that more than half of the female homicides in Saskatchewan, for example, involve indigenous women.
There are untold families across the country who are grappling with the reality that their loved one’s killer has not been brought to justice. Some victims’ relatives speak of a mistrust of police – of a skepticism that investigators continue to devote time and resources to the case as the years go on.
“Hopefully, this will give some hope to families who are waiting to see justice, waiting to find out what has happened to their loved one,” said Native Women’s Association of Canada president Dawn Lavell-Harvard, who was in New York this week to address the UN Commission on the Status of Women. “Maybe we have finally reached a point in our society where ignoring these women, ignoring the tragedy of what has happened to these women, isn’t going to be acceptable any more.”Report Typo/Error