June 19th, 2024

Watchdog report blasts RCMP failures investigating missing Saskatchewan woman

By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press on February 17, 2023.

Michelaine Lahaie, chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, addresses a roundtable dealing at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia on April 18/19, 2020, in Dartmouth, N.S. on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

SASKATOON – Amanda Michayluk’s final moments were spent walking alone in the cold and snow through a Saskatchewan field as her family anxiously waited for an RCMP search and rescue team that would never arrive.

A scathing report from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP says officers responding to calls for help from Michayluk’s family had tunnel vision, relied on stereotypes and did an inadequate ground search.

The decision not to call in search and rescue was described as “unconscionable.”

“Although it will never be known for sure, it is possible that she might have been found alive were it not for the RCMP’s failures in this case,” says the report from the RCMP’s civilian watchdog.

The partially redacted report, made public under freedom of information laws, details at least 36 hours of serious missteps by Mounties that began with a report from Michayluk’s family that she had disappeared near Maidstone, a small town in northwestern Saskatchewan.

Michayluk, 34, had been out collecting firewood with her father when their vehicle got stuck in snow. When it started to get late and dark, Michayluk attempted to walk home, which was about two or three kilometres away, to get help.

Her father eventually got the truck unstuck and drove to the house. His daughter wasn’t there.

He drove back to the area he’d last seen her and tried several times to follow the path she had taken, but it was impassible due to large snowdrifts.

The father called 911 and asked for a search and rescue team. He said snowmobiles would be needed to get to the area. At no point would a rescue teamarrive.

An RCMP officer attended the scene not long after and found several sets of foot tracks. Another officer also arrived but the commission’s report found they did an inadequate ground search.

One officer found a set of boot prints that ended at tire tracks. The commission’s report says the obsession with this detail would have officers unreasonably conclude Michayluk was picked up by a passing motorist.

The report found officers relied on racial stereotypes and unsupported assumptions and noted in their reports that Michayluk had an “active social life at the bar.”

Family made it clear to officers that Michayluk would not take off and leave her two young children behind.

Officers were also confused by time zones based on where Michayluk’s phone last connected with a cell tower. Maidstone is near the Alberta boundary and the cell tower was running on Central Standard Time, but the area where Michayluk was last seen runs on Mountain Time in the winter.

“As the investigation went on, the subject RCMP members continued to flounder, failing to communicate effectively, or to respond appropriately,” the report says.

The officers returned to the family’s home and told them arrangements had been made for a ground search to be conducted in the morning, “even though they did not arrange for any further search,” the report noted.

“This was an egregious dereliction of their duties.”

The report says that in the following hours, officers and their supervisors used their time to call Michayluk’s friends and attend places she worked. The did shoddy paperwork, the report noted, and didn’t follow the RCMP’s own missing person protocols. Some officers made no work on the missing person’s case at all.

One corporal noted how he didn’t think Michayluk was lost.

Meanwhile, a volunteer search party unaffiliated with the RCMP began a search using skidoos and a drone. They found her body in a farmer’s field a couple of kilometers away from the firewood site.

The report notes the civilian search party was able to locate Michayluk very quickly by following her tracks, “which were still clearly visible, a day after (she) had disappeared.”

Her cause of death was hypothermia.

Michayluk’s family complained to the RCMP that its members failed to conduct a proper search. Mounties investigated the complaint and the family brought it to the commission after an RCMP report failed to address a number of key issues.

The civilian commission’s chairperson, Michelaine Lahaie, agreed with the family that the RCMP report into the investigation did not consider important evidence, ignored many relevant issues, and was inaccurate and misleading. The RCMP’s report also stated a search began for Michayluk in the morning, which was false.

“There are no words that can sufficiently describe the horror of this deceit,” Lahaie wrote.

The commission’s report included recommendations, including an apology to the family and code of conduct proceedings for the responding officers.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed with most of the recommendations but said the Saskatchewan RCMP division decided “operational guidance and performance processes” were preferable responses for the officers.

RCMP did not respond to a request for comment or explanation of whether any officer faced disciplinary action for failures in the case. One of the responding officers has since resigned from the RCMP, the commission’s report noted.

A GoFundMe created to support Michayluk’s two young sons after her death says she had a “heart of pure gold.” It described her as a single mother who wanted to help people and show her boys unwavering love.

“Amanda always did everything she had to, to be sure her boys were taken care of and she never complained or was defeated, she just did it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2023.

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