Precious Ones: Families allege racism and incompetence in Indigenous women closed cases, Holly Moore - APTN NewsAPTN News

Precious Ones


Holly Moore
APTN Investigates

APTN Investigates travelled to Sydney, Nova Scotia and Leaf Rapids, Manitoba to look into the sudden death cases of three Indigenous women over 15 years.

The family had concerns over how their loved one’s case was handled by police and those agencies agreed to interviews. In each case, the specific allegation of the family and the police response is available here.

Staff Sergeant Phillip Ross is with the Cape Breton Police Service. He supervised the case of Jane Paul in 2016 and was a Constable at the time of Cheryl Anne Johnson’s death in 2001 and had no direct involvement with her file.

Superintendent Jeanette Theisen is in charge of Serious and Major Crimes for the RCMP in Manitoba. She reviewed Dawn Anderson’s case.



Cheryl Anne Johnson

Cheryl Anne Johnson was just 23 when her body was found on the rocks below a Sydney, NS boardwalk in May 2001. Her sister Tricia said the Cape Breton Police told the family Cheryl drowned while drunk. The very next morning a witness tried to make a statement and was told the case was closed. Tricia said she pushed for over a decade to obtain a copy of her sister’s police file. She finally got a copy after filing an access-to-information request in 2016.

Multiple statements say Cheryl was picked up by police that night after she was kicked out of Smooth Herman’s, a nightclub about a 20-minute walk from where she was found.

Here is what the police say:

(Staff Sergeant Phillip Ross, Cape Breton Regional Police Service)

Phillip: There is no evidence in the file that I could see that there was any type of contact that night with police none whatsoever. It seemed to be once again when somebody says something, somebody takes it as gospel and tells somebody else, and one person said that she ended up being arrested for intoxication that night or ended up in the drunk tank was the words that were used. And even the people she was travelling with that night believed she had been taken to the drunk tank and they were just going to pick her up tomorrow morning.

APTN: Were the officers who were on patrol that night, were they interviewed? Because I didn’t see that in the file….

Phillip: I’m not aware if the officers who were on patrol that night were interviewed or not However if there had been any type of call or again getting back to an intoxicated person, If they saw that person as being at risk to themselves or the community they would have picked that person up with the Liquor Control Act and Intoxication in a public place is all about, it’s about the safety of the person, the safety of the community.


One of the key documents in any sudden death investigation is a timeline. There was no timeline document present in the files family received from police, and the last person to have contact with Cheryl is listed as her father at 10 that evening. But more witness statements say Cheryl was seen right up until three or four in the morning.


(Staff Sergeant Phillip Ross, Cape Breton Regional Police Service)

APTN: Was there a timeline in Cheryl Anne’s death? Because I didn’t find that in her file.

Phillip: In Cheryl Anne’s death? No I didn’t see it in the file as well but I know from an investigative standpoint that is one for the very first things we do, we always establish a timeline in any type of file like this.

APTN: According to this, the last person to see her alive was her father at 10pm… Obviously that’s not the case because there were a number of witnesses at Smooth Herman’s that saw her…

Phillip: Yes that’s correct. She was at the bar that night with friends.

APTN: so why does the paperwork say ten pm with her father.

Phillip: I’m not sure why the paperwork says that. Maybe that could be family related?


According to the documents in Cheryl’s file, witnesses came to police two years later in 2003 and told them that men were bragging at a party in nearby Eskasoni First Nation about killing Cheryl.


(Staff Sergeant Phillip Ross, Cape Breton Regional Police Service)

Phillip: We act on information and I will elaborate on that a little bit. We act on information. When people come and tell us something, we investigate that. And when we investigate it, we find it to be credible or not credible. Based on the evidence we have and what we know about the file. And one of the things that we know about these files is based on the forensic autopsy and what the Medical Examiner is telling us as far as cause of death is concerned. And we know if the Medical Examiner tells us this is the cause of death and we have people coming forward and telling us this is the cause of death, we are going to investigate what they have to tell us but obviously it’s not consistent with the scene that we have, it’s not consistent with the remains and what was found to be true during the forensic autopsy. So a lot of times, that goes back to the rumour mill and not that it had anything to do with this case but somebody comes forward and says someone was shot with gun and I know they were stabbed with a knife. That information is not reliable, it’s not correct.



Jean Paul

Jane Paul, 33, was still alive when she was discovered leaning against a pole on a busy Sydney street in March 2016. Friends say she had overdosed on an intravenous drug, though they insist she was afraid of needles and would not have injected herself.

Friends said that police cars drove past her a number of times and did not stop to help.

Here is the police’s response:

(Staff Sergeant Phillip Ross, Cape Breton Regional Police Service)

Phillip: With cases like this, there’s always rumour. Earlier you talked about the fact that there’s bias, there’s distance between the police and the communities and what not, and people are reluctant to come forward. And in a lot of circumstances like this, in tragic circumstances like this, we end up with a lot of rumours. That are out there. Negative rumours. Not only about the police but around the circumstances surrounding the deaths and whatnot. A lot of times, it poses problems for us because we obviously take any of these rumours very seriously and we do have to investigate each of those rumours. And find out if they are just that a rumour or actual fact. If there is anything pertinent towards the case.  That did come up during the investigation and it was one of the things we did discuss with the first responding patrol officers that were on the scene. And if a car did drive past her at the time, it certainly wasn’t the units that were in that area at that time because they are accounted for where they were at and what they were doing. We did look into that. But we can’t prove that one way or another no.



Dawn Anderson

Dawn Anderson would have been 42 this year. She froze to death in November 2011 right beside the house she rented with her two young children in Leaf Rapids, MB.

Her family said her children talked about watching a long, black, bag containing their mother’s body being thrown into the back of an RCMP pickup truck.

Here is the RCMP’s response:

(Superintendent Jeanette Theisen, Major Crimes Division in Manitoba)

APTN: Has he been interviewed? To say “Did you ensure that the children weren’t standing at the window at the time watching their mom be taken away?”

Jeanette: From looking at the file, and speaking, myself I didn’t speak with him directly but we don’t know how the children are coming to say that. Because they were in the care of the officer.

APTN: so it’s possible that they did see….

Jeanette: It is a possibility but I knowing how traumatic it is for trained investigators and officers, We would want to keep those little buttons safe from looking out the window.

APTN: so he hasn’t said if he kept them from looking out the window or not?

Jeanette: No I haven’t asked him that specific direct question no.


The family said the case was closed too quickly and suspects were not properly investigated.


(Superintendent Jeanette Theisen, Major Crimes Division in Manitoba)

Jeanette: Technically, the investigation is concluded. But as recent as March we are still doing investigative tasks on it. That’s why I mean people kind of get- it really kind of sounds offensive I would say—to a victim or a loved one is my case is closed. I think the stigma that goes along with that is that the police no longer care or the police are no longer investigating. This is simply not the case if somebody has information that we can follow up on, there’s not an investigator that wouldn’t grab it and run to try and get closure or to find out. That’s the nature of our job is we are all curious, yeah…


The garage where Dawn was drinking that night was set on fire approximately 19 hours after her body was found.  Dawn’s sister, Hilda Anderson-Pryz, said an RCMP officer commented: “Isn’t it customary in your culture that somebody takes it upon themselves to burn the house down when somebody passes away?”


(Superintendent Jeanette Theisen, Major Crimes Division in Manitoba)

Jeanette: Our policies and protocols we have no room for racism in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We have mechanisms in place to deal with individuals should they display that kind of behaviour. We are bound by our code of conduct that stems from sea to sea all across Canada. And there is a zero tolerance to it and if someone feels like they have been the subject of racism by a member of the RCMP, We encourage them to come forward because we need to know. What our members are saying and if someone is doing something that is racist or isn’t within our code of conduct as leaders and as officers we need to be aware of that and deal with that swiftly.

APTN: Your own commissioner has said though, that there is racism in your ranks. That there is racism in dealing with cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. So could there not be a possibility that this was being displayed here?

Jeanette: There’s always a possibility. But when I talk to the member and he says he doesn’t- didn’t make the statement, I have to have faith that he didn’t make the statement. It’s one person’s word against the other and I just hope that we can move forward with the Anderson family because we need to work together with all of the MMIWG cases. We as the police need to work with the families. Along the lines of them feeling that it was racially driven- it isn’t the right word- the omission that they feel – that we need to sit down with them and get some clarification for them.



Full episode – APTN Investigates: Precious Ones

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