Far too many indigenous women and girls are victims of violence. That’s why a federal inquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was launched last week. One of the cases the inquiry may examine is Caitlin Potts.
Caitlin Potts is a young indigenous woman who was living near Enderby and hasn’t been seen or heard from in more than five months.
Now, an unheard voice from the Splatsin First Nation is speaking out about violence against Indigenous women and the systemic issues surrounding it, which is something they say they experienced with Caitlin Potts.
They said it took months for the RCMP to follow up on a tip they thought could help find Potts.
“I feel the systems have failed again,” said Judy Maas, the health director at the Splatsin Health Centre in Enderby.
Maas along with health lead at the Splatsin Health Centre, Laura Hockman, last heard from Potts about a month and a half before she went missing when staff from the health centre drove Potts to a safe house.
“She was in a domestic abusive situation. She needed a ride out of that situation as soon as possible,” Maas said.
Staff at the health centre ended up getting Potts to safety, something they said Potts had originally called police for help with.
Maas said due to patient confidentially that was all they could confirm about their run-in with Potts before she went missing.
“It was in the middle of winter. They had told her that they don’t give rides and there was nothing that they could do to help her out,” Maas said.
The health workers said the next time they heard about Potts was when they saw her face on a missing persons’ poster at a local gas station.
They immediately called RCMP and left a message because they had a tip they thought might help find Potts or help the investigation.
Health centre staff said more than two months passed and they approached police again at a press conference related to the case that was held in Enderby on June 7.
They said that is when the RCMP came out to interview them.
“We asked why there wasn’t a follow up, and basically we received the same thing that everyone hears about, lack of resources, it went on to a voicemail, sometimes people don’t pick up their voicemail right away. We had a number of those answers,” Maas said.
The health workers feel the systems have failed Potts.
“I’m not trying to put blame on any particular service organization, but we need to start facing the reality, we need all those partners at the table so we failed her,” Maas said.
Global Okanagan asked the RCMP for a response to these concerns.
A police spokesperson declined our request for an interview.
“We are not in a position to provide comment on statements made by a third party group regarding an ongoing investigation,” Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said in a written statement.
In June, during a community search in Enderby, Moskaluk confirmed police believe Potts may have been the victim of foul play but wouldn’t comment on many aspects of the case.
“We have to maintain the integrity of the investigation and divulging possible evidence or information that could be considered as evidence could, of course, jeopardize an investigation,” Moskaluk said on June 7.
Potts’ disappearance adds fuel to what advocates have been saying for years, which is that the upcoming national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is necessary, in order to find out the systemic causes of the disproportionately high number of cases of violence against Aboriginal women.
The national inquiry will launch this September.