Quebec police renew investigation into Cree woman's death in Val-d'Or after 25 years

Quebec police investigators are now looking into the case of a Cree woman who was found frozen to death in Val-d'Or, Que. in 1991, CBC News has learned.

Rose-Ann Blackned, 24, was found dead on Nov. 16, 1991. She was a mother of two young boys from Nemaska, a Cree community located more 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal.

While no one was ever charged with her death, four investigators with the Sûreté du Québec met with family members this week and will begin conducting more than a dozen interviews in the surrounding communities over the next several days.

The family claims police did not conduct a thorough investigation after Blackned's body was found in 1991.

"The police didn't even do a right job," said Silas Blackned, Rose-Ann's biological son, who lives in Nemaska. He was five years old when his mother died.

Beaten and left in Val-d'Or

At the time of her death, Blackned was living in Val-d'Or. Her family said she had been banished from her home community, though the exact details about that are still unknown.

Charles Letellier de St-Just, the coroner, listed her date of death as Nov. 7, 1991, but her body was not discovered until nine days later, something the family recently learned after obtaining the coroner's report from CBC News.

The report details her final hours.

On Nov. 6, 1991, Blackned was with six people. After a local bar closed, an argument escalated into violence. A woman and a second person — whose name is redacted in the report — started to assault Blackned.

On Nov. 19, 1991, L'Echo newspaper reported that Blackned was found lying in a fetal position, her hands covering her face and her body under a few centimetres of snow.

Letellier de St-Just stated she suffered injuries to her head and collarbone, a fractured rib and swelling to her face.

Charges recommended, but not laid

Rose-Ann Blackned's case was initially handled by the Sûreté municipale de Val d'Or, the city's now-defunct police agency, which was disbanded after a massive overhaul of police services in Quebec in 2002.

At the time, Daniel Huard, a detective with la Sûreté municipale de Val d'Or, recommended charges against the woman who assaulted Rose-Ann as well as the second person listed in Letellier de St-Just's report.

Although the coroner concluded Blackned's injuries did not contribute to her death, Huard said those two individuals were the direct cause of Blackned's death because they "beat her and abandoned her."

The detective went on to say that "even though the injuries were not deadly, they contributed to weaken the victim, who died of hypothermia."

The detective noted both individuals seemed to express no regrets about Rose-Ann's death.

Martine Asselin, a spokesperson with the Sûreté du Québec — Quebec's provincial police force, which has handled Rose-Ann's case since 2002 — told CBC News there were never any charges laid by the Substitut du Procureur général, now known as the prosecutor's office, despite the detective's recommendations. The Blackned family also hasn't heard of any charges being laid.

A spokesperson from the prosecutor's office told CBC News that it does not have any public information about the case, nor will it discuss any investigation or why the prosecutor didn't charge anyone.

The SQ is the same force whose officers were accused two years ago of abusing Indigenous women and girls in Val-d'Or. That investigation was led by Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête. One year later, Crown prosecutors concluded no charges would be laid against police.

Investigators now on case, meeting with family

"The police never contacted any of us, even to come and deliver the news," at the time of Rose-Ann's death, said Mary-Ann Blackned, one of Rose-Ann's younger sisters, who lives in Oujé-Bougoumou, Que. 

"I think they just did a sloppy investigation and closed it unresolved and never bothered to dig deeper."

Blackned said the family has heard little from authorities in the past 25 years, even after a friend came to the family with the name of someone who was allegedly involved in the beating of Rose-Ann.

Cynthia Blackned, another of Rose-Ann's sisters, says she heard this information from the family friend sometime after the year 2000. She claims she took the information to the Cree Nemaska and Mistassini police. Cynthia only recalls an officer from the Mistassini detachment writing her statement down.

According to a spokesperson, the SQ has been in contact with the Blackned family. The SQ contacted the family in 2008 after receiving new information. Since January of this year, the SQ has received further information about Rose-Ann's case, and made contact with the family in mid-February, the spokesperson said.

Family reaches out to media

That was around the same time the Blackned family reached out to CBC News and after the family did a few interviews with local media.

The SQ recently held a one-day meeting with the family.

According to the family, when the SQ investigator called them last month, the investigator told them he was given the order to contact them and do everything necessary to get the case reopened, and that more people came forward about Rose-Ann's case.

CBC News has learned there are now four or five investigators looking into the case. They will be visiting four communities to conduct 15 interviews over several days.

The SQ told CBC News that Blackned's death was classified as manslaughter and that the case was never closed — though the family claims they were told otherwise.

Family seeking answers

Recently, Rose-Ann's parents, siblings and one biological son met as a family for the very first time to discuss Rose-Ann's death.

The family is looking to push Rose-Ann's case forward and hopes to look at the police file themselves.  

In the meantime, the family said they will be participating in hearings for the upcoming National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which is supposed to start hearing testimony this spring.

"With this inquiry open, I thought maybe there's a chance to reopen the case," said Silas Blackned.

"Whatever happens, at least we tried."