Clutching an eagle feather given to her during the search for her daughter, the mother of Delaine Copenace got right to the point.
“I was so scared, really hurt now knowing where she was,” Anida Ross said on the opening day of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Thunder Bay.
Copenace, an Ojibway teen from Onigaming First Nation, was 16 when she disappeared in Kenora, Ont. on February 28.
But instead of rushing to find the missing teen, Ross testified provincial police compounded her anguish by suggesting Delaine was drinking somewhere.
“It’s like they gave up on her. I was so angry and hurt,” Ross said, wiping away tears.
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Ross was the first witness to testify at the inquiry’s first stop in Ontario – its seventh and last hearing of 2017.
An Elder gifted Ross the feather saying, ‘Think of it as your daughter’, Ross told commissioners Brian Eyolfson and Michele Audette.
Police called off their search after 14 days.
Ross said that was a difficult time made even tougher by the way some officers treated her.
“You could tell which were sincere, which weren’t,” she said. “I knew just by the way they talked to me.”
When officers told her they found a body in Lake of the Woods, Ross said they couldn’t confirm it was Delaine. That took until March 22.
Finally, Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner ruled there was no foul play and said the teen drowned.
Something Ross called “garbage” and still disagrees with.
A regional coroner later overturned the decision so the case remains open.
“Proper investigations have to happen,” said Ross, adding she couldn’t believe the report was sent to her home via regular mail.
“Just ‘cause they’re dead and gone don’t give up on it.”
Ross is still upset it took police three days to join the search for Delaine.
She said she thinks her daughter was harmed.
“I believe that was the second scene; she might have died elsewhere.”
The family doesn’t have the police report, although Ross says she requested it.
They took pictures of Delaine’s wrists with a cell phone because it looked like they’d been bound together, she said.
For her, there are still too many unanswered questions. And police saying she “just ran away” doesn’t cut it.
Commissioners are expecting to hear more about high-profile drowning deaths right in Thunder Bay as 50 families testify over three days in the northwestern Ontario city.
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