by Brandi Morin
(ANNews) – A Yellowknife man said he’s relieved to learn his common-law wife, Toni Tobac, is safe following her arrest in Edmonton this week. Tobac disappeared over two weeks ago from the Stollery Children’s hospital.
“I know where she is now, I’m relieved but still worried,” said Russell Hamilton, who’s been caring for the couple’s four children since Tobac was medevaced from Yellowknife with their one and a half-month old son on April 20. The baby received surgery at the Stollery to treat pyloric stenosis and has since been flown back home to his father.
From the start Tobac leaving was out of character, stressed Hamilton.
“Everything was a shock. She’s a really good mother. I could understand maybe if she took off for a day,” said Hamilton who shared he and Tobac once struggled with addictions but have worked to overcome them. “But I can’t understand her leaving for any longer. If you could see the way she loves these kids, she doted on them.”
The threat of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was on his mind too. Because Tobac is First Nations, “far from home in a big city” and vulnerable to become a statistic.
During the search for Tobac, Hamilton said EPS sent him two photos of her entering an Edmonton convenience store and advised him it was evidence she was alive and unharmed.
He wanted more proof that she was OK, he said.
Hamilton believed Tobac was in danger and being held against her will.
His fears were made worse being so far away and unable to search for her. From there he said the EPS closed Toni’s missing persons file. Then, he says the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) became insulting and difficult to deal with.
“When I phoned to re-apply for a missing persons case for her the operator on the phone told me ‘she’s probably just a junkie that fell off the wagon’,” said Hamilton.
He added he’s been accused of domestic abuse online since Toni disappeared. However, according to him it’s not the case.
“We weren’t fighting. This came right out of the blue,” he said.
EPS wrote in an email to Alberta Native News that Tobac was arrested Wednesday on outstanding warrants for being “unlawfully at large.” The warrants were issued out of the NWT.
They confirmed Tobac is currently in the Edmonton Remand Center and the courts will determine whether she remains there or goes back to NWT.
In response to the handling of Toni’s missing persons file the EPS states:
“With respect to the investigation, what I can tell you is the EPS takes all missing persons cases very seriously. While the EPS closed the missing person investigation on April 26 based on conclusive evidence that Tobac was safe and not acting under duress, officers continued to search for her due to ongoing concerns from a family member. When Tobac was located, she was found to be safe and well, and cooperative with police. Officers were obligated to arrest her given her outstanding warrants.”
“I think it just flew over EPS’s head. They have no remorse for anything,” said Hamilton. “There’s a national debate over MMIWG that happened and they don’t care about anything – calling her a junkie. It was horrible.”
International Missing and Murdered Exploited Indigenous People advocate Stephanie Harpe says she’s not surprised to hear of the conduct by police.
“Although people like us are holding onto false hope (things will change), until we see action or genuine sympathy for people who didn’t have the choice of trauma,” Harpe explained.
“Canada and police have to deal with traumatized people (our people) in a different way. To have an understanding of colonization and residential schools and what that did to us. To sympathize and be educated on our history. These officers take oaths as people trying to help and serve others, but they don’t help our people.”