Edmonton police hope advancements in DNA technology will help them finally crack 10 cold cases they’ve reopened involving Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in the city.
The new spotlight on old crimes is being met with appreciation by advocates and family members who have lost loved ones.
“I’m really glad about that because it seemed to be unthinkable that you could do an inquiry into the deaths of Aboriginal women without going into the cold cases,” said Muriel Stanley Venne, president of The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.
The files date back to 1977 and involve 10 files with 11 victims. Edmonton homicide investigators confirmed to Metro that upon reviewing the files, they have come across DNA material that could be sent back to the lab based on advancements in DNA technology.
They are also looking at re-interviewing witnesses.
So far, the files have resulted in one recent murder charge. Police charged Dana Fash last December in the death of Jeanette Cardinal, who was found murdered in an Edmonton apartment in 2011.
April Eve Wiberg is cautiously optimistic about the cold case news. She lost her great aunt, Sandra Isabelle Gibot, in 1983. The 24-year-old woman was found murdered in Montana, USA, although she was originally from the Fort Chipewyan area.
Wiberg started the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Walk 10 years ago and since then has seen the issue slowly gain prominence in Canada.
“[The Walk] was more the way to express the outrage about the issue itself. At that time it didn’t seem like there was a lot of action being taken to combat the number of women and girls going missing,” Wiberg said.
While she’s encouraged Edmonton police are reopening cold cases, she acknowledges the work has only just begun.
“It comes better late than never. But at the same time you have to wonder, what about the others? What about the non-Indigenous victims?”
Wiberg would like to see a nationwide task force specifically targeted towards people who prey on sex workers and vulnerable women.
Venne said while the police and government receive the brunt of the blame for the lack of progress, it’s also important to recognize when positive steps are taken.
“We’re very, very concerned about the inquiry not delving into the cold cases. This is very commendable that Chief (Rod) Knecht saw an opening where he could start that. I’m hoping other provinces will do likewise,” she said.
Edmonton police have three homicide investigators and one person from the missing persons unit working on the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls files in addition to their regular duties. They also have had one to three investigators on loan who have been working full time on the files since they were reopened in Feb. 2016.
Wiberg has a message for whoever out there is murdering Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
“You didn’t just pick someone that you think is disposable and everyone’s just going to forget it,” she said. “Families are waiting for answers and the justice their loved ones deserve.
“I think we’re at a point now where the awareness has happened. Now what?”
This story was originally published in Metro Edmonton.