An Ontario coroner wouldn’t pay to unlock the iPod of a 15-year-old girl who used it to film her suicide inside a Sioux Lookout foster home despite police wanting to secure it as evidence, according to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) documents.
And if the parents of the Ojibway teenager put up any fuss they could pay to have the video removed before the device was returned to them the coroner told investigators.
Or they could let the OPP wipe the device – deleting the video and everything else on the iPod.
That girl was Kanina Sue Turtle.
She hanged herself Oct. 29, 2016.
“Dr. (Michael) Wilson was consulted about the fee to Cellbrite (sic), and he advised the coroner’s office will not pay this fee,” says OPP notes of the Nov. 2, 2016 conversation with the regional coroner out of Thunder Bay.
“Coroner requests to keep the device and if the family demands its return, the family can pay the fee to remove the video, or agree to allow police wipe the device.”
Cellebrite is an Israeli company that specializes in data extraction from mobile devices, particularly Apple, and is commonly used by law enforcement in Canada.
Investigators knew Turtle had filmed her suicide because Const. David Laviolette watched it as one of the first responders to Turtle’s death.
Laviolette made notes of what he saw but then the device apparently “timed out” and locked according to Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer.
Huyer wouldn’t respond directly to questions about the coroner’s investigation into Turtle’s death.
“If the question had come to me, generally speaking, I would not be advocating for the family to pay for something,” said Huyer.
The iPod remained with the coroner’s office for months.
Then in May 2017 APTN first learned of Turtle’s death and spoke to her parents who said at the time they didn’t believe she killed herself.
Clarence and Barbara Suggashie also said then, about six months after Turtle’s death, they didn’t have their daughter’s autopsy report.
But they had filed a Freedom of Information request with the Ontario government to get the OPP’s police report into Turtle’s death.
They got the report last summer, right around the same time Huyer said he ensured the family got the iPod, too.
“I facilitated the family getting the iPod back to them. That’s how they got it back,” he said.
Unlike police, the family was able to figure out the iPod’s passcode.
That’s when they finally believed their daughter died by suicide because they watched the video.
Suggashie would sleep with the device every night for months afterwards.
The parents saw in the video what APTN News first reported in February: Turtle was left alone for 45 minutes before anyone in the foster home came to check on her.
By the time a worker did, it was far too late for Turtle who was “chronically” suicidal according to her post-mortem report.
At the time of her death, she had “hundreds” of cuts all over her body from self-harming.
“The Occurrence report records that this woman had some self-inflicted type wounds to her arms. However, at autopsy, she had enumerable (hundreds) of fresh superficial self-inflicted type wounds to all limbs,” says the post-mortem report.
She also had multiple hospital visits in the days before her death and the device had more videos – videos the police could have found if they accessed the device.
Turtle had attempted to die by suicide the day before and filmed it as well. She also had a video of another foster child trying to kill herself just a few days before that.
So how was Turtle left alone?
What went wrong?
Those are questions Turtle’s parent’s keep asking all these months later.
“I wish someone would reach out to me and say the truth,” said Barbara Suggashie, who lives in Poplar Hill First Nation near the Manitoba and Ontario border.
Suggashie has told APTN she believes Tikinagan Child and Family Services is hiding something.
Tikinagan owns and operates the home that Turtle died in. It’s still being used by the agency.
Up until this week Tikinagan wouldn’t answer any of APTN’s questions citing privacy, and sometimes didn’t respond to emails at all.
“I can verify that Tikinagan has spoken with Barbara in the past and answered her questions. We will be reaching out privately to her again because we prefer to offer information and support personally to families,” said spokesperson Irene Dube.
Suggashie said this isn’t true.
In fact, last month in Sioux Lookout Suggashie, with her son Winter, 12, by her side, said she asked Tikinagan again why Turtle was left alone. Both Suggashie and her son said they never got a response.
Turtle’s police report is partially redacted, meaning portions have been deleted.
That’s information relating to Tikinagan.
That means if police asked Tikinagan why Turtle was left alone for 45 minutes or what level of care was she supposed to be getting her parents don’t know because Tikinagan exercised a third-party clause that allowed them to keep that from the parents.
“Tikinagan is prohibited by law from disclosing personal information except in limited circumstances. Tikinagan staff and the foster parent chose to have their personal and identifiable information redacted, which is their right. You also should know that Tikinagan was unaware of the source of the information request,” said Dube.
Suggushie believes her last hope of finding out the truth is with the coroner’s office.
Huyer is leading what he’s calling an “expert panel” review of 11 deaths between Jan. 1 2014 and July 31, 2017, that occurred with children in protective services and living in residential care, like foster and group homes.
Seven of those deaths were Indigenous children, including Turtle.
Of the 11 deaths under review, seven were suicides, one homicide and all had a history of mental health challenges, according to the terms of reference provided by the coroner’s office.
The terms also further outline the causes that sparked the review.
They include potentially being placed in the wrong homes based on the children’s needs, training and qualifications of caregivers, availability of treatment and the oversight provided by children’s aid societies.
It also found concerns with the ministry of Children and Youth Services’ oversight of the placements.
Huyer said the review is in the final stages and should be released later this summer.
The coroner’s office did finally get a copy of the suicide video when Huyer met with Turtle’s parents this past January as part of the expert panel review.