Paul Tuccaro, the brother of a murdered Mikisew Cree First Nation woman, spent most of his testimony before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls laying out his complaints about how the RCMP handled the case.
He was the first witness to appear Tuesday during three days of hearings scheduled for Edmonton this week.
Amber Tuccaro was 20 years old when her body was found in a field in Leduc County in 2012.
She had been missing for two years.
“Even now, we’re still trying to get information about what happened that day,” Paul said of his sister’s disappearance from the Edmonton area.
“The police always say you’ve got to be missing 24 hours before you’re missing. But we checked and there’s no law that says that. So I don’t know why the RCMP always tells people that,” he said. “Those 24 hours are critical.”
The family believes they wouldn’t be sitting here if police had started searching right away.
Paul was still visibly angry at the memory, one echoed by many other MMIWG families, of police suggesting she wasn’t missing but just “out partying.”
He said various branches of various police detachments had control of the case at various times and the family was rarely updated on any progress in the investigation.
He said his sister Amber was mistakenly taken off the missing persons list at one point.
“Police say they’ve got to be 100 per cent certain to do that but someone reported seeing her and she was taken off the list. It took almost a month to get her back on there,” he said.
“I don`t know why she was taken off but they didn’t ever admit they made a mistake.”
Later, after Amber`s remains were located, evidence in police possession was mistakenly destroyed, he said.
“They didn’t tell us who destroyed it. We asked for a public apology, but they said no.”
Paul credited one unnamed police officer for telling them about the destroyed evidence.
“If he hadn’t have said nothing, we wouldn’t have known,” he told Chief Commissioner Marion Buller.
The family has been pursuing a complaint to the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission on that matter for three years. It is still ongoing.
Paul said he`s convinced some police officers judged his sister and dismissed her based on racist stereotypes.
In the meantime, he said the family has a suspect in mind – the person who was with Amber the last time she was seen. He said they have been pushing for Amber`s remains to be exhumed so a DNA test can be done that might lead to evidence.
The police have resisted that so far, Paul said, claiming the individual is not a person of interest.
He echoed complaints heard from other MMIWG families that police say they are working on it but seem to go bigger when the missing person is “a non-Native woman . . . it`s plastered all over,” he said.
“Try and explain that to her son when he`s older and has access to everything.”
The crime has been hard on the entire family. Amber Tuccaro`s son Jacob is “going to miss out on moms doing what they do for their kids.” He was just a baby when Amber vanished.
Paul shared a number of recommendations he believes would make it easier for families dealing with these tragedies.
He said the use of stereotypes by police should be banned and those who violate the ban should be harshly disciplined.
He recommended families receive copies of all the paperwork they file with police, that the paperwork include a checklist that allows families to stay on top of police and hold them accountable, and that the policy of waiting 24 hours before beginning an investigation should be abandoned.
He told the commissioner that children of murdered or missing women need long-term help and attention.
“And if they say they`re offering after-care, there should be after-care. Not one or two calls saying how you doing,” he added.
Paul, who lives in Fort Chipewyan, also criticized the Inquiry.
“I didn`t believe I was going to be here until I got on the plane,” he said, adding they should help more of his family members and other victims` families get to the hearings.
“This is a big event in itself and you think you would want to get it right. You need a better way to reach out to isolated communities, even if you have to go door to door.”
Buller is in Edmonton with commissioners Brian Eyolfson and Qajaq Robinson. Michele Audette is home in Quebec.
Buller said the testimony reinforced the commission’s call for a national police task force to look into new information that comes out of the hearings.
“This is not just just an Indigenous problem,” the citizen of the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan said. “This is a Canadian problem. This is a national tragedy.”