Three protesters were arrested Monday night after refusing to leave the Vancouver Police Department’s Downtown Eastside headquarters.
The trio were among eight people who entered the station at 312 Main St. at 6 p.m. demanding police put more resources into investigating the death of 22-year-old Ashley Machiskinic.
According to First Nations groups, Mashiskinic was thrown out of Room 518 of the Regent Hotel on Sept. 15, landing on her back in the lane below, where she lay gasping until she died.
Police claim the death may have been a suicide.
Mashiskinic died during the busiest time of the day in the drug-infested area and Downtown Eastside activists say she was killed to send a message to vulnerable women to pay up their drug debts or be killed.
“We’re told that Ashley was thrown into the lane and 10 seconds after she landed, her shoes were thrown out after her — everyone understood that as a threat coming directly from the drug dealers,” said Gladys Radek, an organizer of the annual Walk 4 Justice, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the Feb. 14 Memorial March committee.
The protest group had entered the police station following a rally as part of a national day of action for missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Vancouver police spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton said the group demanded a meeting with Chief Constable Jim Chu.
“They allegedly refused repeated appeals by officers to leave and indicated that officers would have to arrest them,” Houghton said.
“Chief Constable Chu agreed to meet with a representative at a later date to discuss their concerns and that prompted five of the protesters to leave on their own accord, with the remaining three protesters indicating they would prefer to be arrested.”
All were arrested without incident and there were no injuries to either protesters or police officers, Houghton said.
Ashley’s grieving family at the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan has asked Vancouver police not to discard Ashley’s death as a “suicide.”
“I know in my heart that Ashley would never commit suicide — we raised her when she was a little child not to do any harm to herself, ever,” said a distraught Lawrence Strongarm, Ashley’s grandfather, who lives near Regina.
“Ashley was murdered, but why won’t the police investigate it like that?”
A two-day funeral and wake for Ashley, attended by over 200 people, was held in her home community, north of Regina, said Ashley’s brother Aaron, 21.
“My sister was obviously murdered, she was not going to jump out a hotel window, plus she was found lying on her back,” said Aaron Mashiskinic, who said Ashley also had a younger brother Arlen, 20, and sister Alicia, 23.
Strongarm said his daughter Cheryl, Ashley’s mother, spoke to many people in Vancouver.
“Ashley has a big family, she is precious to us and we say the police should treat her death as a murder,” said Strongarm.
“We are tired of her and others becoming just a statistic,” Radek said.
Women’s groups have written to the VPD charging that police are “ignoring Ashley’s death the same way they did so many other First Nations women.”
“This is the same dismissive attitude toward economically marginalized people from the Downtown Eastside we’ve always got from the VPD,” said an angry Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“We thought we were moving away from the ‘just another dead Indian’ attitude.”
Houghton confirmed Monday that police have concluded Ashley’s death was “not suspicious” and “did not involve foul play.”
However, he stressed the investigation is “still open” and he urged witnessses to come forward.
“If they don’t wish to leave their names they can come forward anonymously to advocates on the Downtown Eastside or to Crime Stoppers,” said Houghton.
“We can only work with the information we’re given.”