MONTREAL – The mysterious disappearance of two teens from a northwestern Quebec town and the lack of exposure that has followed is symptomatic of a double standard toward missing native women, rights’ advocates say.
The search will resume on May 2 for Maisy Odjick, 16, and Shannon Alexander, 17, best friends who have been missing for more than seven months.
A group of volunteer searchers will focus on an area in Maniwaki, Que., a small town about 140 kilometres north of Ottawa that borders the Kitigan Zibi First Nation reserve.
Laurie Odjick says not knowing what has happened to her daughter has been a nightmare.
“It’s just not knowing, not knowing if she’s still alive,” she said in an interview Thursday.
“We have hope that she is still alive … but we need closure either way.”
Police initially believed the best friends had simply run away, but relatives of both girls insisted some other fate had befallen them because they left the apartment of Alexander’s father with little more than the clothes on their back.
Odjick has had issues with the way police have investigated the case. Despite the time that has lapsed, she said police still seem to think the girls have run away.
“I don’t think they have (changed their hypothesis) – I can count on one hand how many times the police officers have called me here at home,” Odjick said.
“Every time they talk to me, they make that assumption – ‘where do you think they went?”‘
Native organizations said cases of missing native women are too often dismissed by police and ignored by mainstream media.
By the time a response comes, it’s often too late, said Ellen Gabriel, president of Quebec Native Women.
A study by the Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented 513 cases involving aboriginal women who have disappeared or been killed since 1980.
The majority – nearly 75 per cent – have gone unsolved.
“This is a situation that demands the public’s attention,” Gabriel said.
“We want to see police forces and judges and politicians to be as alarmed at this situation as we are.”
Mainstream media are also complicit, often ignoring stories involving native women, she said.
“Laurie Odjick said there was no attention when her daughter and Shannon went missing,” Gabriel said.
“But when Boomer the cat went missing the media had helicopters, there was all kinds of attention for the lion cub in the same community.”
Odjick said it’s hard not to compare her daughter’s case with other high-profile disappearances and the difference in the way they have been treated.
In particular, she points to the case of Brandon Crisp, a 15-year-old from Barrie, Ont., who was also believed to have run away and who was found dead after widespread searches and heavy media attention.
“We had no search team, there was no media involved, there was nothing,” Odjick said.
“When I made my plea for help, there was no one there. To me, we weren’t important enough.”
Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Quebec victims’ rights advocate, says a single police force – specialized to deal with such cases – should investigate all such disappearances in the province.
The fact two separate police forces – Kitigan Zibi police and Quebec provincial police – are investigating the case reveals a jurisdictional problem that has officers working at cross-purposes.
Police also did not heed the family’s repeated pleas that the teens could not have run away.
“We find that’s the case often, the hypothesis of the family doesn’t match that of the police,” Boisvenu said.
“Police need to listen more to what the family is telling them.”
Odjick is still holding out hope her daughter’s alive and says she will solve her daughter’s disappearance
“Nothing was done for these girls,” Odjick said.
“I know my daughter’s rights were violated because she didn’t get a proper investigation.”
On the web: http://www.findmaisyandshannon.com/