A First Nation woman who was struck and killed by a freight train in Toronto Tuesday night was also a witness in a murder investigation and had allegedly been receiving death threats about testifying according to people close to her.
Terra Gardner is believed to have been hit on the tracks near Young Street and Summerhill Avenue at about 10:25 p.m. close to a popular spot where people are known to drink by the tracks. Two other people are believed to have been with her at the time of her death.
Gardner had been receiving death threats and was being called a rat for providing information in the Toronto homicide of First Nations man Leo Buswa in 2010.
Buswa was beaten Aug. 29 that year and died a month later in hospital.
Last month Gardner testified at the preliminary trial of Blake Paul, of Moose Factory, Ont., who is accused of second-degree murder. Paul was arrested in 2012 in Cape Breton, N.S.
Gardner apparently was reluctant to testify and she was warned by officials that if she didn’t testify she would be held in custody until the trial, scheduled for later this year, according to Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with Sanctuary, an organization in Toronto that helps struggling people.
“They did not give her adequate protection for testifying…in a major murder trial where she is being called a rat and being threatened and we had to literally beg to get her a second night in a hotel and she was testifying for five straight days,” said Johnson Hatlem. “They just wanted to give her the first night. She’s homeless. She’s vulnerable.”
It’s not immediately known if Gardner’s death is being treated as suspicious by Toronto police but it’s leaving some to question the timing of the death.
“That’s a potential,” said Johnson Hatlem. “It also could have been an accident. We don’t know that yet but given the circumstances if this isn’t treated at least a little bit suspicious it’s going to be really, really maddening.”
Originally from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, located 40 km east of Fort Frances, Ont., Gardner was living in Toronto. She often went to Sanctuary for help.
On her Facebook page dozens of people expressed sorrow upon learning of her death.
“I just don’t want to believe it’s true and then I keep seeing everyone post about you being gone,” said one person. “The waves of sorrow are small right now but, I can feel them growing and it hurts more and more when I think I wont be able to walk do the street and see that beautiful smile of yours or get one of those super awesome hugs.”
Police said they couldn’t release any information.