Family calls for upgraded criminal charges following Indigenous woman's death

·3 min read

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. — Relatives of a dead Indigenous woman have formally asked police in Peterborough, Ont., to upgrade charges against her alleged assailant.

Cileana Taylor, 22, suffered severe brain damage after an attack at a house party on Sept. 3. She remained in a local hospital after the incident and died on Feb. 26.

Jordan Morin, 23, is currently charged with aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Peterborough police have publicly stated that the investigation is ongoing. A lawyer for Taylor's family said Tuesday that her relatives want the charges to be upgraded to at least manslaughter.

"The family believes the fact that she had almost no brain activity shortly after (the incident), that for all intents and purposes they lost Cileana shortly after Sept. 3," said Christa Big Canoe, who is also the legal director of Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.

"Quite frankly, they feel her death was connected to the assault and therefore a charge of homicide should be laid."

Big Canoe said that the family respects that the police investigation is ongoing and that they understand the coroner's office has done a post-mortem. However, she said that they believe there are grounds for some class of homicide charge to be applied to Morin.

"They don't want to tell either the police or the Crown what kind of homicide they should be proceeding with, but they certainly believe it is homicide," said Big Canoe. "At minimum it meets, as far as the family is concerned, the criteria for manslaughter, for culpable manslaughter."

Peterborough police had no immediate comment when asked about Taylor's relatives calling for upgraded charges.

Morin and Taylor had been in an intimate relationship for about three months before the alleged assault.

Emergency services were called to a house party on Sept. 3 at a local residence for a woman in medical crisis. It was there that Taylor was found and transported to hospital.

Big Canoe said that although Taylor remained alive for months, she was never the same.

"She had sustained enough injuries that she wasn't herself, she wasn't responsive, she was originally on life support," said Big Canoe.

Raised in Curve Lake First Nation, approximately 30 kilometres north of Peterborough, Taylor had been a vibrant part of the predominantly Ojibwa community, according to the territory's elected chief.

"Cileana will be remembered forever in Curve Lake as a woman taken unfairly and too soon," wrote Chief Emily Whetung shortly after Taylor's death. "But Cileana will also be celebrated for who she was in our community — a tiny affectionate toddler in our daycare, a young learner in our school, a good friend and support to the young women she grew up with, and a beautiful vibrant soul full of potential."

Curve Lake First Nation joined Taylor's family's call for increased charges against Morin on Monday.

Morin was already out on bail for a previous assault charge dating back to 2019 when he was charged for the incident involving Taylor. He was released on bail on Feb. 3, three weeks before Taylor died.

Taylor's sister said she is worried about the safety of other women while Morin is out on bail.

"“I for one, do not feel safe walking in the streets of Peterborough or surrounding communities with my children or as a woman, knowing he is free," Savannah Taylor said in a statement issued through Aboriginal Legal Services. "We deserve safety and Cileana deserves justice."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press