Lubicon Cree activist and Greenpeace environmental advocate Melina Laboucan-Massimo has watched development in the Alberta oil sands eat away at her First Nations culture and community.
But no amount of heartache could prepare her and her family for the hole that has been ripped in their lives at the mysterious, suspicious death of Laboucan-Massimo’s 25-year-old sister.
Nearly a month after Bella Laboucan-McLean fell to her death from the 31st story of a Toronto high-rise on July 20, the death is being investigated by police. But few answers have surfaced.
“[It’s] pretty horrific to lose a sibling, but the nature in which it happened is just another level of just—it’s like a horrible nightmare,” Laboucan-Massimo told CBC News on August 2.
The family is seeking any tips. The recent grad of the fashion-design program at Humber College was found on the ground outside a Toronto condominium development on July 20. According to the scant details available, she had attended an event on the evening of July 19, then went to an apartment in the building. As many as six people were in the unit, but they did not call emergency services until the following afternoon, the Toronto Star reported.
“A neighbor overhead noises, and then a loud bang at 4:55 a.m.,” the Toronto Star reported. “Police arrived on the scene immediately but had no way to know from which unit she had fallen. The people with whom she was with did not call in the incident until that afternoon. They allege they had not noticed her fall.”
Police have classified the death as suspicious, the Star said.
“There were six people in this small condo,” Detective Darren Worth told the newspaper. “For something to happen and not see?”
Besides Laboucan-Massimo, Laboucan-McLean is survived by two other older sisters and two younger brothers, the Star said. Laboucan-Massimo told the Star she hoped the people who were with her sister that night will come forward. She does not know who they were.
“You’d think that the people who were with her that night would honor her life, would honor the person that she was,” she said. “She was very dedicated, a hard worker, and she was a very loving and caring person.”
Cree environmental activist and actress Tantoo Cardinal and author Naomi Klein were among a few dozen people who attended a vigil held for Laboucan-McLean on Sunday August 4 outside the building where she was found.
Laboucan-McLean was the third unexplained death of an aboriginal woman in Toronto in recent months. The Star said that 20-year-old Cheyenne Fox died in April after she, too, fell from a 24th-story condo. “Despite calls for an inquest into her death, her father John Fox was told ‘within hours’ by Toronto police that it was a suicide,” the newspaper reported.
Terra Gardner was 26 when she was fatally struck by a train in May after complaining that she was receiving death threats for testifying in a murder trial, the Star said. Nevertheless, “police told reporters they did not suspect foul play.”
The deaths underscore the urgency expressed by the premiers of all the provinces, who called for a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, of which there are hundreds of unsolved cases across Canada. In July the premiers met with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders before a two-day summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, for the Council of the Federation and backed calls by the Native Women’s Association of Canada for a national inquiry, CBC News reported.
Laboucan-Massimo is determined that her sister not become a statistic or be classified as a suicide.
“Bella would have never done anything to intentionally harm herself and we know that something went wrong,” said Laboucan-Massimo to CBC News. “And that's why we are asking for people to come forward with any information that could help with this investigation.”
Laboucan-Massimo is a prominent activist and environmentalist who has been outspoken against further development in the Alberta oil sands, in her nation’s territory.
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has more on the story and the vigil.