Joan Saunders didn’t find it particularly alarming when four years passed without hearing from her youngest brother, Daniel (Danny) Saunders, an Inuk living in Montreal.
Since Danny had run into the law over the years, Joan thought his unanswered “Happy Birthdays” and “Merry Christmas” might be the result of incarceration. His other theories included a lost phone or a precarious living situation that prevented him from answering her.
What she never imagined was what really happened: that her brother died and was buried in a cemetery in Laval, Quebec, in 2018 without anyone telling his family.
“It took us four years to realize that our brother was gone and already buried,” Joan said in an interview with CBC News.
There is no headstone on the grave where the 43-year-old father of three is buried. Only the number 212 written in orange spray paint marks the plot.
“Who gives these people permission to do what they do? To bury our brother like that and not get in touch with anyone?
According to the Quebec coroner’s office, it is up to the police officers assigned to the case — in Danny’s case, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) — to find the coordinates of the deceased’s family and inform them of the death. .
Although there is a process in place in Quebec to search for the next of kin, the Saunders family said it failed them because they had to find out about their brother’s death via a complete stranger on social media.
The family is now demanding answers and accountability from the Montreal police and the Quebec government.
I learned about death thanks to Facebook
The last time a sibling of Saunders saw Danny was on November 12, 2017, at his apartment in the Saint-Léonard borough of Montreal, where he was living as part of a social reintegration program and was supported by a social worker.
Her family of 14 siblings hail from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland, and are part of the Inuit community in the Nunatsiavut region. Some of the siblings, many of whom now live in Dryden, Ontario, came to see Danny for a visit.
After that, he fell off the grate.
“That’s how Danny was, that’s how we grew up,” said Tim Saunders, Danny’s older brother.
But last week, a brother of Saunders still living in Labrador received a Facebook message from a neighbor of Danny’s, who said he hadn’t seen him in a while, and after digging he said. found out he had died four years ago.
Worried, the family did their own research. A call between Joan’s daughter and the Quebec coroner’s office confirmed Danny’s death, believed to have occurred on March 1, 2018. He was laid to rest nearly three months later.
“I found out my brother is no longer on earth here through social media, and that’s kind of a shame,” Tim said.
According to the coroner’s inquest into the man’s death, Danny’s social worker, smelling a foul odor outside his apartment during a visit on March 14, 2018, asked a concierge to come with him. to its unity. Through the French window they saw the man lying dead on his bed.
The report concluded that Danny died of coronary heart disease, precipitated by poorly controlled diabetes and severe obesity. He did not appear to use alcohol or drugs.
Police made ‘no effort’ to find them, family say
The Saunders family say it shouldn’t have been so hard to find them. All 14 siblings share the same mother and father, so many share the same surname.
“All they had to do was even look on Facebook and find his Facebook page. They could have found me. They could have found most of our siblings that way,” Elizabeth Adams, Danny’s older sister, whose last name is ‘Saunders Adams’, posted on Facebook.
Danny’s jail and court records should also have allowed police to find the family, says Joan, who lives in Montreal. She says the police clearly knew where to find her, because whenever they looked for Danny when he was in trouble, they showed up at her house.
WATCH | Danny Saunders’ sister says her family needs closure and responds:
“He didn’t get in trouble this time because he was dead. How come they didn’t come knocking on the door? she says.
“They didn’t care enough, the police or the social worker, to get in touch with [the] family. He had a lot of family and he also had friends.”
The Saunders siblings say it is unacceptable that they have not been contacted in the age of technology. They accuse the SPVM of not doing its job.
“It seems that there was no effort, nothing was done to find [us]”, said Tim.
Montreal police respond
When asked who decides whether a reasonable effort has been made to locate the next of kin, the Quebec coroner’s office said the responsibility rests with the responsible police department. In Danny’s case, it’s the Montreal police.
Contacted several times by CBC News to explain the role of the police department in the search for Danny’s family, the SPVM first redirected all questions to the Director of Civil Statusor registrar — the body responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths.
Finally, the service specifies that the SPVM investigators dedicated to this type of case “inform the family of the death when it is possible to reach them”.
“Unfortunately, all efforts by the SPVM to locate Mr. Saunders’ family members have been unsuccessful,” he said in an emailed statement.
The service would not comment further on Danny’s case.
In a situation where no family member can be found by the police, the coroner’s office publishes the name of the deceased in the “Unclaimed bodiessection of its website for at least 30 days, to give the family a chance to come forward, the coroner’s office said in a statement.
After 30 days or more without a family member coming forward, the body is buried at the expense of the coroner’s office.
Danny’s name was added to the list on April 20, 2018, more than a month after his death. He was buried on May 31.
In 2021, 31 people were buried after no family members were found, the coroner’s office said. So far in 2022, 18 people have been laid to rest after no family members came forward.
“The system is failing Indigenous peoples,” says his brother
Danny’s siblings say they can’t help but feel their brother’s death was taken lightly because he is Inuk and had a criminal record. They believe something like this would never have happened to a non-native family.
“They didn’t care because he was a so-called criminal and because he was native. They didn’t care about him,” Joan said in tears.
Amid the Every Child Matters movement, Elizabeth wonders how in 2022 something like this can still happen.
“We need closure, we need answers… my brother’s life matters too,” she said.
The family is asking the Quebec government to pay for the exhumation of their brother, as well as his repatriation to Happy Valley-Goose Bay so that he can be buried next to his parents, where his three daughters can visit him.
Until then, they say they can only hope they are the last in a string of Indigenous families to have to go through this.
In February, an Indigenous woman named Tara Niptanatiak died and was buried in Calgary the following month, unbeknownst to her family in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. In December, a similar situation happened to another Indigenous woman named Courtney Wheeler, still in Calgary.
“The system is failing the Indigenous peoples of Canada, and [it] my brother has failed very, very much, ”said Tim, looking towards the unmarked grave under which his brother lies.
“I will never, ever forgive them.”