A year and one day after the body of a 26-year-old single mother was found, a pre-trial conference was held in Penticton Court.
The hearing marks the near one-year anniversary of the arrest of Grace Elinor Robotti, 65, and her brother Pier Louis Robotti, 63, in connection with the second degree murder of Roxanne Louie. Both are now facing charges of second degree murder.
Defence counsels for Grace and Pier continue to argue for disclosure from the Crown and police with the two-week preliminary inquiry set to take place Feb. 1. A date many in the community have been waiting for.
“What we were calling for last year is kind of here, and it’s a nightmare that you want to happen,” said Laurie Wilson, who has been acting as the spokesperson for the Louie family over the past year.
The hearing will determine whether or not there is enough evidence for the matter to go to trial. No evidence against either Robotti has been presented or tested in court and both Robottis are presumed to be innocent of all charges.
Louie, a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band who grew up in Oliver, never made it to her flight back to Vancouver at 9:45 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2015 at the Penticton Airport. Relatives of Louie told the Western News at the time that her three-year-old boy was still at his paternal great grandmother’s house, the Robotti’s residence.
“It’s not like her to just abandon her son,” said Roger Hall, Louie’s father in January 2015. His message to his daughter at the time: “We love her and we miss her, and … just to come home.”
Shortly after Louie’s body was discovered in the woods near Chute Lake after a week-long missing persons investigation, the Robottis were arrested with Grace facing charges of second degree murder and Pier initially facing charges of accessory to a murder and interfering with human remains. Pier’s charges would later be upgraded to second degree murder in August, 2015.
Both the Robottis were granted bail in March while tears streamed down the faces of the family in the courtroom, and drums and singing could be heard from the rally outside.
“Justice my ass,” was shouted outside the courtroom after the bail was set at $25,000 each for Pier and Grace with strict conditions.
“To me that’s an insult. I guess our lives are worth $25,000 in this country,” Louie’s uncle Dan Wilson said outside the courthouse after the March bail hearing.
Similar stories across Canada
Much has happened for Canada’s First Nations in the year since Louie’s body was discovered.
The Trudeau government has announced a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, something which can be felt on a local level according to Wilson.
“I think we know what to expect from the courts. The outcome is still a crapshoot, but as much as we can we’re still supporting each other,” Wilson said.
“The movement with murdered and missing indigenous women now is really adding to it because there are so many similar stories across Canada, and I think that a lot of comfort comes from each other. The families that have suffered the same thing. You never know what they’ve suffered until you do yourself.”
Support for family and friends has been coming from outside the community as well, including Coola Louis, women’s representative for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and councillor with the Okanagan Indian Band. She spoke at a Penticton rally in September along with the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Philip and Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Wilson said Louis may be attending the preliminary inquiry.
“The political part of it is moving forward, but also the family part of it,” Wilson said. “Watching things on TV, watching things on Facebook, having people phone and say ‘this is what happened to me and this is what I did’ has really helped,” Wilson said.
She is inspired by upcoming conferences in B.C. by the Minister of Status of Women and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs who are meeting with families of missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Which is something that has never happened before. So hopefully some of the family can go up there and at least feel like they are doing something.”
Support has become an evolving process over the past year.
“It’s shifting. At first of course was the trauma, just holding everyone together,” Wilson said. “Then it sort of switched to the boy, to her son. To ensure he’s sheltered from it and he’s okay. Then you add on top of that the missing and murdered women. It helps you when you’re fighting for a cause. It helps you have a voice, when you can stand with other families and help them out too.”
We’ve been raging for 200 years. We’ve been angry and resisting for 200 years. We still have to do that, but we have to heal too. I think it’s going that way, and it’s important for us to become the people that we’re supposed to be.”
Wilson shared a teaching that was passed on to her and others in the community: “Don’t shrink down, don’t puff up and stand your sacred ground.”
“To me, that says what we’re doing,” Wilson said. “It’s really a different movement.”