The Yukon RCMP has apologized to the relatives of a First Nations woman whose death in the 1960s was not satisfactorily investigated.
The apology comes more than 55 years after the body of Tootsie Jimmy-Charlie was discovered on the fringes of a garbage dump in what is now the Porter Creek subdivision.
RCMP representatives gave a formal apology during an event at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Aug. 5.
“To the family of Ms. Jimmy-Charlie: You came to the RCMP rightfully expecting us to conduct a thorough investigation into your daughter, your sister, your wife, your mother’s disappearance and subsequent death, and we failed you,” stated chief superintendent Scott Sheppard, commanding officer of the Yukon RCMP.
“I fully acknowledge that we took away the ability for you to find closure. We did not uncover or protect all of the information that may have been available to allow you to know what happened to your loved one — the information you needed so that you could begin to heal. We simply did not do enough to investigate Ms. Jimmy-Charlie’s death and support you during this time in your life.”
A statement from Jimmy-Charlie’s family prior to the apology said the lack of an investigation reflects the environment at the time, when Indigenous peoples’ legal rights, including the right to access legal representation, were not substantially recognized. Jimmy-Charlie’s family believes that the result has been her killer walking free and potentially endangering others, as well as a coroner’s report they say reeks of racism.
Jimmy-Charlie’s death was ruled a “misadventure” in the coroner’s report completed months after her body was found amid deadfall trees near the garbage dump in the spring of 1967. The report concluded her death was accidental, based entirely on Jimmy-Charlie’s blood alcohol level at the time of her death and stories about her past behaviour while under the influence of alcohol.
The coroner’s report produced in 1967 states that the last time Jimmy-Charlie was seen alive was when she was released from the Whitehorse jail on March 20. Whitehorse was not Jimmy-Charlie’s home, she lived in Upper Liard near Watson Lake. Her remains weren’t found until May 1967.
Fielding questions after the formal apology were Tootsie Jimmy-Charlie’s children Jack and Darlene Jimmy and her sister Ann Maje Raider.
Maje Raider described the work that has gone into reopening the investigation into her sister’s death and having past failures recognized with the Aug. 5 apology.
“This goes back many years, with parents asking questions, you know, family asking questions and not receiving answers. And then what brought it to the high profile is because we shared our story to the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry. And through that, the commissioner wrote a letter to M Division, saying that this case needs further investigation,” she said.
Maje Raider added that the long process of getting recognition has led to a lot of emotions for the family. She thanked all the women across the country who have worked towards an end to violence against Indigenous women and the local Family Informational Liaison Unit (FILU) who have helped her family in meetings with the RCMP.
“Tootsie was a very loving mother, loving sister. She cared very much for her husband and her family.”
Maje Raider said this love was reflected in the fact that a letter from one of her children was found in the front pocket of her coat when her remains were found.
“When we remember her, we always remember her, you know, putting on her makeup. Our sister took a long time in the bathroom,” Maje Raider said, adding that her late sister bore a strong resemblance to Tootsie’s daughter Darlene who was present for the apology.
Darlene says the apology doesn’t really help with healing as of right now, as she and her family have been hurt for so many years.
Maje Raider said seeing the coroner’s report on her sister’s death amended remains an outstanding issue for her family.
Fielding questions along side Sheppard at the Aug. 5 apology were Yukon RCMP Major Crimes Unit corporals John Gillis and David Lavalee who offered some details on the reopened investigation.
“So any and all investigations can be reopened, especially when new information is learned or things are uncovered. Throughout this process, I can tell you that the historic case unit has taken the lead along with the assistance of FILU and the family in doing a review of the initial file to try to determine what information was still available and what else could be done,” Gillis said.
Gillis added that the next step will be an appeal to the public in the hopes of receiving new information and establishing a timeline of events between when Jimmy-Charlie was last seen and when her body was discovered weeks later.
Another aspect of the renewed investigation discussed by police is the journal of one of the previous investigators which Jimmy-Charlie’s family specifically requested the use of in the investigation.
Gillis says the journal is the written memories of an officer who was retired at the time and that it’s not based on records but rather on the officer’s recollections. He added that the Yukon RCMP has been in communication with the retired investigator and believes they have all the portions of the journal that pertain to Jimmy-Charlie’s death.
A major line of criticism against the 1967 investigation and coroner’s inquiry was how quick it was to explain away Jimmy-Charlie’s death as a misadventure while leaving key questions unanswered.
“How can a body being found in a dump ever be considered ‘uneventful’ or a ‘misadventure’? To this day, the dump in Whitehorse remains far from everything. Their report makes it sound like she just walked there herself and died on a pile of garbage. No one does that. No one,” Darlene Jimmy wrote in a statement to the media prior to the apology event.
“That’s something that wasn’t answered. And we still cannot answer today,” Gillis said.
He added that the death would have certainly been treated as suspicious and investigated accordingly if the major crimes unit was called to it today.
Gillis said there are currently 11 cases related to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls being investigated by the Yukon’s Historical Cases Unit. Across the HCU’s entire case load, Gillis said the death of Tootsie Jimmy-Charlie in 1967 is among the oldest.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org