For the first time in 28 years Rita Thomas shared the story of her sister Marina Spence who went missing from Thompson in August 1990.
“I knew something was wrong. My heart just hurt,” Thomas told Commissioner Michele Audette during hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Thompson, Man. on Tuesday evening.
Thomas shared her sister’s story now in hopes of getting justice for her family.
Child and family services apprehended Thomas and her five siblings, including Spence, from their home community of South Indian Lake, approximately 400 kilometres north of Thompson, after their mother died in 1990.
Thomas and Spence were placed in separate homes in Thompson, but the two still remained in contact.
Spence, 17, was in care when she went missing.
“I know for a fact that CFS failed my family,” said Thomas.
One night in August 1990 the sisters went out drinking. Thomas doesn’t remember what happened that night. All she can remember is waking up in a jail cell by herself. When she asked police where Spence was they told her she was the only one sent to the drunk tank.
Thomas returned to her foster home and continued to ask her caseworker where Spence was. The only information her caseworker gave her was that Spence had gone to the town of Leaf Rapids, approximately 200 kilometres north of Thompson.
After a few days of not hearing from Spence, Thomas decided to report her missing to the RCMP. When she arrived at the station an officer wouldn’t let her in the building.
“I went to the station and reported my sister missing through the intercom,” said Thomas. “After I reported her missing through the intercom they got a statement off me. That was it.”
Thomas said the next time police followed up with her was 11 years later when some of Spence’s remains were found near the Burntwood Bridge in Thompson. Police identified the remains through dental records.
The news destroyed Thomas who was already dealing with drug and alcohol addiction at the time.
“I wasn’t there to be a voice for her because I was busy drinking,” Thomas said tearfully during testimony. “Not caring about anything. Not caring about myself. My children.”
Thomas said she still doesn’t know what happened to her sister.
APTN News asked the RCMP for information related to Spence’s case. They were unable to provide a response by deadline.
Thomas believes if child and family services allowed Spence to stay in the community with their grandmother she would still be alive.
“My granny was more than capable of looking after us,” said said.
“Hearing about Marina’s death broke her heart.”
Debra Merasty is a family friend. She sat with Thomas during testimony Tuesday. She said there need to be more supports for guardians when kids are apprehended.
“We should have these supports at a community level,” she said.
She said without people to help guardians they are often left with little support or information on how to get back their kids.
In the meantime, speaking out for the first time has finally given Thomas a chance to move forward.
“I’m just ready to heal. That’s what I’m going to do for myself,” she said.