(Kanina Sue Turtle, middle, with father Clarence Suggashie and mother Barbara Suggashie visiting Poplar Hill First Nation for a funeral Oct. 18, 2016. She died by suicide Oct. 29, 2016. Photo provided by family.)
Warning: The follow story contains an explicit image of self-harm. APTN News does not normally run images of self-harm. However, in this instance our editorial team felt it was in the public interest to republish the photo, originally from Kanina Sue Turtle’s Facebook page, because the story cannot be fully understood without it.
The lawyer for the family of a First Nations girl that filmed her own suicide in a Sioux Lookout foster home says the child welfare agency that placed her there has been badgering the mother for the video.
So much so, that the lawyer flew up to Poplar Hill First Nation three weeks ago in part to secure a copy of the video from the mother who was so scared to lose the video she slept with it at night.
“I had flown up to Poplar Hill for court, as well as to obtain a copy for safekeeping as I was worried that the video would be taken away,” Marco Frangione, a child welfare lawyer in Thunder Bay, told APTN News Sunday.
“I was advised that Tikinagan (Child and Family Services) had been repeatedly attempting to retrieve the video.”
Kanina Sue Turtle, 15, filmed her own suicide Oct. 29, 2016 in a Sioux Lookout foster home, which was first viewed by APTN two weeks ago.
The video shows it takes about 45 minutes before a foster care worker comes to check on Turtle – a suicidal girl who APTN has since learned made at least two trips to the hospital within nine days before her death.
She also filmed trying to kill herself the day before.
“Without question, the video was the most horrific thing I have ever seen in my life and career,” said Frangione, a senior associate with Bird & Thatcher. “My take on the video is that it really is the visual embodiment of how our system is broken, particularly as it relates to Aboriginal children in care.”
Tikinagan, an Indigenous agency that operates in northern Ontario, knew of the video but didn’t attempt to get it from Turtle’s mother, Barbara Suggashie, until this past January after she met with the chief coroner of Ontario.
It’s believed the coroner came to Poplar Hill to learn more about Turtle as he is conducting a review of certain residential care deaths. Turtle was the first of four First Nations girls, that’s publicly known, to die in care in a six-month span.
Suggashie said Tikinagan wanted to be at the meeting.
“My Tik worker was trying to come to that meeting but l said no,” said Suggashie on Saturday, adding the coroner reviewed the video.
APTN asked Suggashie what the coroner said when he first saw the video.
“Like the same thing what you said – 45 minutes,” she said, meaning how long it took before anyone noticed Turtle was dead.
Suggashie said Tikinagan had never told her how Turtle was left alone to kill herself when it first happened or that there was a video that was filmed on Turtle’s iPod.
“Tik didn’t tell me anything at all,” she said.
Suggashie said she didn’t find out about the video until months later when she said police returned Turtle’s belongings, including the iPod, last summer. Turtle’s father told APTN police said they were unable to access the device but advised the family of the video’s existence. The family later determined the device’s passcode and saw the video.
Turtle is seen propping up her iPod as the video begins and she hangs herself. She doesn’t say a word.
It happens quickly and then nothing until a worker abruptly comes through the door to check on her. A baby is heard crying in another room.
The unidentified female worker realizes the iPod is recording at about the 50-minute mark of the video as she is on the phone with 911.
Tikinagan has not responded to several emails asking for comment, including why it was after the family for the video.
It will not answer whether they had additional staff on to watch Turtle.
The ministry of Children and Youth Services also will not answer questions, including if there was any ramifications for the foster home or agency as result of the death.
But APTN has uncovered additional information about Turtle’s last days.
Four days before Turtle killed herself Turtle was in the hospital for self-harming according to a video she posted on her Facebook account, that is under a different last name.
It’s a recording of a live video where Turtle filmed what appears to be a Tikinagan worker sitting in a chair in the hospital room as they wait to be seen by a doctor.
The unidentified woman talks on a mobile phone explaining to someone she is the hospital with Turtle and how her shift is ending soon.
Turtle begins the video by showing her injuries and says very little, other than she is bored.
The worker agrees it is boring and notices there is no television to watch.
“So quit cutting yourself so you don’t have to come here,” the woman says on Oct. 25, 2016.
Turtle then turns the camera to the woman who is looking down at her phone.
Turtle’s Facebook account gives many hints of her mental state deteriorating in the days leading up to her death.
“(I don’t know) what to do anymore,” she wrote Oct. 24, 2016. “Just gunna give up on everything.”
But she also appeared to be a child that was hiding behind her goofy humour as videos show her laughing with other kids in care.
She was in the hospital on Oct. 20, 2016, again for apparently self-harming.
Her mom says she visited her then but no one would tell her exactly how she self-harmed.
“The doctor didn’t wanna tell me,” she told APTN, but she later learned Turtle had been cutting herself.
Photos in the weeks prior to her death show arms with dozens of cuts.
It’s known Turtle first attempted to kill herself Oct. 28 in the bush. That same day she posted a video on her Facebook with a friend and a stranger who asks who she is.
“My name is Kanina,” she says.
On Oct. 27, 2016 she wrote how angry she was about another girl getting something taken away from her, presumably in the home.
She was also mad at Tikinagan who she believed was following her social media activity.
“If u guys see this fuck u guys,” she wrote. “Meaning the ones who stock me on facebook. Meaning tik.”
The day of her death she wrote one final time on Facebook, at least publicly, but it’s not clear what she means.
“I don’t even know how many times they pass by,” she wrote. They were looking at the wrong spots lol.”
It was written at about 9:30 a.m.
She’d be dead later that day.
Her mom and father explain there were concerns over their sobriety when Turtle was removed from their home.
Suggashie said despite the struggles Tikinagan took issues with at the home Turtle was a happy child.
“She never did it here when she was home,” she said of Turtle’s self-harming. “But ever since when she was in care she started to do that.”
Turtle described being “in care” like being “in jail” on Facebook.
She also wrote about it in her diary. In her last entry, which is undated, she writes to her older sister.
“I feel like killing myself but I know I need to spend more time with our family,” she said. “I’m just sick of being in care.”
She writes she just wants to go home and had been in child protective services about a year and half at that point.
“I hate that Tikinagan always says that (I am) going home in two months but it doesn’t happen,” she wrote.
She finally did get to go home, to her land – where she is now buried.
Her mom is vowing to never give up finding out what happened that day.
“I think they are hiding something,” she said.