In 2013, three young First Nations women met sudden and tragic deaths in Toronto within a three-month period. Even more startling is the fact that the police quickly dismissed all deaths as either suicides or ruled out foul play without doing a thorough investigation.
In May 2013, Terra Gardner, 26, from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, was struck and killed by a freight train in Toronto. Police ruled out foul play despite the fact that Gardner was summoned to testify in a murder trial and she had told people close to her that she had been receiving death threats in relation to this.
In April 2013, Cheyenne Fox, 20, a member of the Sheguiandah First Nation died after falling from a 24-storey condo in Toronto. Within hours, Toronto Police told Fox’s family she committed suicide.
And in July of 2013, Bella Laboucan-McLean, 25, from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation died after falling 31-storey’s from another condo in Toronto. Initially, police once again tried to rule Laboucan’s death a suicide, but after much pressure from the large First Nations community in Toronto, police are now treating her death as suspicious.
Three beautiful young women, all met sudden tragic deaths and police are doing very little to find answers.
But Cheyenne’s father, John Fox, won’t rest until justice is served. Fox, along with friends and family of Cheyenne, strongly believe her death was not a suicide. Cheyenne left behind a two year old son, Xavier, whom she loved very much. Fox is now calling for an inquest into his daughter’s death.
Members of Cheyenne Fox’s family are demanding that Toronto police treat her death as a homicide.
Last November, Fox’s lawyer along with supporters met with Toronto Police to discuss the death of Cheyenne. According to Fox, the police admitted that they might be part of a ‘systemic failure’: that is failure of the criminal justice system to treat First Nations people with diligence and respect, especially when they are victims of crime or victims of disappearances and murders.
Fox also attended Toronto Police headquarters and met with Staff Inspector, Tony Riviere and four detectives to discuss their investigation into Cheyenne’s death. Riviere told Fox, “What’s going on with Aboriginal folks, is not just in the city of Toronto. It’s part of a larger problem.”
Riviere may have been referring to the disproportionate number of First Nations women who, in the past 30 years, have either met sudden and violent deaths or have gone missing without a trace and a general unwillingness of police to help find answers. According to a report released by the Native Women’s Association, at least 582 Indigenous women and girls have been murdered and gone missing in the past three decades.
First Nations women and girls are three times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. And according to Amnesty International, Indigenous women are five to seven times more likely to die from these acts of violence.
What does John Fox know about his daughter’s last day? According to the police report, he knows that the owner of the condo where Cheyenne fell from is a male. He knows that his daughter was lured into the sex trade just weeks prior to her death. He knows that the condo owner was a ‘John’ and had brought Fox to his place for sexual services. He knows that the condo owner told police that at one point shortly after she arrived, Cheyenne wanted to leave but he blocked the door, which may have caused her to retreat to the balcony.
Yet the police are treating the condo owner as a victim because he told police that he tried to save Cheyenne from jumping off the balcony. Also, police will not release his name nor his address to the Fox family who are Anishinabe and very spiritual. They have been unable to give Cheyenne a spirit ceremony, which is traditionally held in the location where the loved one died. And Toronto Police are denying Cheyenne’s family that right.
John Fox recalled that police knocked on his door the day after his daughter died and informed him that Cheyenne had fallen at 10:30 the night before and by 8am, her death was ruled a suicide. The only witness was the ‘John’ whose condo she was in.
Fox explained that it took months of rallying against the Toronto Police before they finally started an investigation into his daughter’s death and if it wasn’t for the support of the First Nations community in Toronto and their allies, her death would still be ruled a suicide.
A gathering will be held this Friday, February 14 starting at 12:30pm at Toronto Police Headquarters (40 College Street), which is hosted by No More Silence. It is for Terra Gardner, Cheyenne Fox, Bella Laboucan-McLean along with the hundreds of other First Nations women and girls across Canada who have lost their lives to violence or gone missing.