As a vigil is being organized this evening, Nov. 19, for a 23-year-old Nain woman found dead last week in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Nunatsiavut Government is calling for an independent police investigation into her death.
The body of Tama Bennett was discovered Nov. 15 in a wooded area in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The RCMP said later that day the death was not being treated as suspicious. An autopsy report regarding the cause of death is expected to be released later this week.
However, some groups, including the Nunatsiavut Government (NG), are concerned about the police investigation.
Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe said there are concerns that police neglected to interview key witnesses before issuing a public statement that the death was not suspicious.
“We have reason to believe the RCMP made assumptions as to the cause of death before carrying out a thorough investigation,” said Lampe in a press release.
According to the NG, Bennett was a frequent visitor and client of the Housing Hub, an emergency shelter operated by Inuit government in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“Has the RCMP learned anything from the national inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, which denounced decades of police indifference and systemic racism and which called for fundamental policing reforms?” Lampe said. “Would this matter have been handled differently if the victim wasn’t a homeless or transient Indigenous woman living in a tent?”
Raelene Vickers, executive director of the Mokami Status of Women Council in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said they support the call for an independent investigation and heard similar concerns in recent days.
“There are questions whether the police are properly investigating this death, whether it was treated fairly,” she said. “Because she was someone known to be sometimes homeless, someone living in a tent, was it treated the same?”
Vickers said the community is very much hurt by what has happened and there haven’t been a lot of answers from the RCMP.
She said there’s a lot of talk among community members on the circumstances surrounding the death, causing them to question how quickly the police drew the conclusion that the death was not suspicious.
“It was unsettling for a lot of people, given what we’ve been hearing in the community around the potential circumstances around what might have happened,” she said.
Meanwhile, Vickers said while the Mokami Status of Women Council isn’t involved in organizing the vigil, they support it fully.
“It’s really a place for individuals who have been impacted by the death of the 23-year-old Inuk woman to come together and demand some answers,” she said.
She said part of the reason for the vigil is showing Bennett’s life mattered and the loss of her life mattered.
There will be professionals on hand to offer support for those who need it.
The vigil gets underway at 6 p.m. outside the Friendship Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.