Family of Noreen Tait urges witnesses to come forward after Crown stays charge against accused

Crown says ‘presence of others’ at scene clouds prospect of conviction

(From L to R) Cathy Merrick, grand chief of Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, looks on as daughter Brandy Tait and sister Arla Tait-Linklater speak about the 2023 death of Noreen Tait. Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN News

The family of Noreen Tait is devastated after a manslaughter charge was stayed against a man accused in connection with her violent death.

Tait, 47, died in a Winnipeg hospital two days after being physically assaulted in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (also known as South Indian Lake) on Feb. 19, 2023.

“We’re deeply troubled and dismayed,” said her older sister, Arla Tait-Linklater, “yet, speaking out following the release of information shared by the Crown attorney in November in which the accused’s charges have been stayed.

“This has reopened the wounds of our loss and has left us in a state of shock and disbelief.”

A stay of proceedings means the charge can be reactivated within a one-year period on the basis of new evidence.

An undated photo of Jodie Kryschuk and her mother, Noreen Tait. Photo: submitted

Court documents show the charge against Phillip Soulier, 50, was stayed on Nov. 29. But there was no further information.

“Those charges were laid with Crown approval,” said Tara Seel, a spokesperson for the RCMP in Manitoba, in an email to APTN News. “The Crown will need to speak to anything further to this case. The RCMP does not have any other suspects in this death.”

Soulier was arrested and charged in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin with manslaughter on March 6, 2023, according to an RCMP news release.

Tait was airlifted with serious injuries to a Winnipeg hospital after first being taken to the community’s nursing station, her family said. Isolated First Nations don’t have doctors on site.

Her family declined to provide further details about the assault at an emotional news conference in Winnipeg on Monday.

Noreen Tait
An undated photo of Noreen Tait. APTN file

“Noreen had the right to live and the right to feel safe in her community,” said one of her two daughters, Brandy Tait. “She has a right to have a proper investigation.

“RCMP have a responsibility to properly secure the location, investigate this case, and not have her death swept under the rug.”

In a statement to APTN, the Manitoba Prosecution Service said the charge was stayed due to a low probability of conviction.

“Given the Crown’s burden of proof and in light of the extended period of opportunity and the presence of others during the time period, the Crown directed a stay of proceedings because the evidence was insufficient to prove this accused had the exclusive opportunity to commit the unlawful act in question.”

Shirley Ducharme, chief of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin, said it was painful to see Noreen join the legion of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada.

Protection and safety

“It is also critical that we prioritize the protection and safety of Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit and gender-diverse people in our community,” she told reporters.

“These individuals face unique challenges and are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence.”

Ducharme said Tait’s death was one of many crises affecting the community that is experiencing an increase in violence – and why she declared a state of emergency shortly thereafter and called for health supports. 

She said alcohol and drug abuse were to blame, as was the historical trauma related to the decimation of a once-thriving, commercial fishery by Manitoba Hydro, and the harms created by residential schools and the ‘60s Scoop.

Tait-Linklater urged people in the remote community, about 1,100 km north of Winnipeg, to break the “conspiracy of silence” and go to police.

Come forward

“We ask the public to come forward with any information that they may have regarding the events leading up to Noreen’s untimely passing,” she said. “We believe there are individuals who possess crucial information that could help shed light on this heinous crime.”

Tait-Linklater, flanked by Noreen’s two daughters and other family and community members, said the stay of proceedings heaped more pain on their suffering.

She called the police investigation “flawed” and the justice system “in urgent need of reform.”

“We, as a family, are struggling with more questions than answers. How are we supposed to grieve?”

Meanwhile, Seel said RCMP officers were at the community nursing station within 15 minutes of receiving the report of an injured female.

“The residence was secured within the hour,” she added. “It does need to be stressed that this was an indoor scene, so crime tape was not necessary. The scene was secured inside the home.”

Seel noted the RCMP are not involved in the medical transfer of patients.

“When it comes to interacting with victims of an assault, medical care always comes first. In some cases, victims are unconscious or incapacitated in some way from communicating with investigators.”

Also, RCMP are not involved in an accused’s release, Seel added.

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