Sister of Edmonton homicide victim speaks out as Indigenous community calls for action

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WATCH ABOVE: Edmontonians are joining together to push for more accountability when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women. As Breanna Karstens-Smith explains, the death of a woman at an Edmonton motel just last week shows the community is still suffering. – Jun 3, 2020

About 100 vehicles gathered at Borden Park in Edmonton on Wednesday to take part in a pandemic-safe rally.

The convoy, which passed by the Alberta Legislature, was organized on the one year anniversary of the final report being released following the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The report contained 231 individual calls for justice. The Edmonton group said almost none of those have been fulfilled.

READ MORE: Canada is asking families of murdered, missing Indigenous women to wait for action plan. Why?

“We are over represented in everything awful in this country,” convoy organizer Stephanie Harpe said.

Among the changes the community is calling for is a national task force to give the Indigenous community a voice.

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They also want to see all Canadians celebrate and appreciate Indigenous diversity and culture.

“I’m here to make a challenge to all Canadians to educate yourself and get some knowledge on this crisis,” organizer Sonja Purcell said.

The provincial government has created a new task force focused on human trafficking. There is only on Indigenous member — a man.

The community believes they need more representation as the issue overwhelming impacts them.

“Just because the colour of my skin doesn’t mean you get to ask me how much to charge to pay me to have sex,” Juanita Murphy with the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation said.

“The colour of my skin doesn’t give you the right to throw pennies at my when I’m walking down the street, calling me dirty names.”

Organizers said there need to be increased accountability from police when investigating cases involving Indigenous people.

READ MORE: RCMP looking into Amber Tuccaro case tip but caution against ‘erroneous information’

“The was a common thread during the national inquiry’s truth gathering process that the families who were reporting their loved ones missing, those reports weren’t being taken seriously,” convoy organizer April Eve Wiberg said.

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Families say that is still happening to this day. Lisa Arsenault, an Indigenous woman, was found dead inside a motel suite at the Royal Lodge on Gateway Boulevard in south Edmonton on May 24.

“My sister was a woman at risk and my sister was someone who needed help,” Arsenault’s sister Ashley Kowalewski said.

Kowalewski says Arsenault was a sex worker and a drug addict and said she believes that is why her sister didn’t get the help she needed.

Arsenault’s family reached out to Edmonton police in February, asking them to do a welfare check, Kowalewski said, adding they never received a response.

Lisa Arsenault (left) is seen with her sister Ashley Kowalewski (right). Supplied

According to Kowalewski, they later found out Arsenault had been admitted to hospital by police.

Kowalewski said the family was denied assistance from victim’s services because of her sister’s criminal record. It’s been 10 days since her death, and the family says it has not received information on how Arsenault died or whether there are any suspects.

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“We don’t know if this will ever be concluded. So you know, there’s no answers for us right now,” a teary Kowalewski said.

“All we can really do is hope and pray that people are doing their best to find justice for Lisa. But my hopes aren’t high. They’re not. I wish they were.”

On Wednesday, an Edmonton Police Service spokesperson told Global News there was no update on Arsenault’s case.

Her sister hopes rallies like the convoy Wednesday will lead to action from all Canadians, so no family has to go through the grief hers is experiencing.

Anyone with information on Arsenault’s death is asked to contact EPS at 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone.

Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online.

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