ENDERBY (NEWS 1130) — On Feb. 22, 2016, 27-year-old Caitlin Potts sent a message over social media to her sister. Since then, no one has heard from the young Indigenous woman.
The first news release about Caitlin’s disappearance was issued March 4, eleven days after her family last heard from her but she was not added to the RCMP’s official missing person’s listing for another two weeks.
At the time RCMP said “Police are very concerned for Caitlyn’s health and well-being and friends and family report that it is out of character for her to be out of contact for this long. Inquiries have been made at all locations where Caitlyn has been known to frequent and to date she has not been located.”
“As the police investigation into Caitlin’s puzzling disappearance progressed, investigators believed that criminality was involved and therefore the RCMP Southeast District Major Crime Unit (MCU) became involved and ultimately took over carriage of the file,” reads a release from police, sent late on the evening of the grim anniversary.
In April of 2017, police released video from a Kelowna mall where Caitlin was seen on video the day before she sent that last social media message.
“RCMP investigators believe Potts disappearance is the result of foul play and her body has not been found,” according to a statement issued at that time.
Marking 5 years since Caitlin Potts disappeared, UBCIC executive says police attitudes continue to contribute to the number of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women and two spirit boys and men. We hear from women's rep Melissa Moses and Kukpi7 Judy Wilson on @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/IOI1JRj8KD
— Ash Kelly (@AshDKelly) February 22, 2021
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs says Caitlin is one of the thousands of women who were failed by a colonial system of justice.
“It’s sad to say but it happens every day, every week. It ends up being at the end of the day, the mothers, the families, the grandmothers, and indeed a nation. Our people are needing to be out there doing it ourselves.”
Wilson says Priscilla Potts, Caitlin’s mother, has a lot of support from family and hasn’t stopped searching for signs of her daughter. She says “She’s doing her due diligence,” and the community is helping by continuing to share and tell Caitlin’s story.
“The National Inquiry Calls for Justice haven’t been implemented yet, so it’s still difficult and challenging dealing with RCMP.”
Wilson says it is difficult to get police to take the families of missing Indigenous women seriously and many are too afraid or traumatized by past encounters with police and do not feel comfortable reporting.
She’s calling on the federal government to immediately release an action plan for the 231 calls to justice laid out in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) report that came from the National Inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Wilson points out Two Spirit (an Indigenous expression of gender and sexuality) people are also at serious risk of violence and disappearing.
Mother pleads for help
Caitlin’s mother Priscilla recorded a video message pleading for anyone with information to come forward, describing the last five years as the hardest in her life.
“I need the public’s help. I know someone knows what happened to Caitlin and can lead us to finding her. I’m begging you,” she said.
“Caitlyn was goofy, loving, caring. She was a mother, a daughter,” she said, adding she’s been fighting for justice for five years.
Anyone with any information can contact the Southeast District Major Crime Unit information line at 1-877-987-8477. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477.
In a news release issued on the anniversary, Mounties say they have received 25 public tips in the past five years and pursued hundreds of leads.
“Although Caitlin has not been found yet, the Southeast District Major Crime Unit remains committed to finding out what has happened to Caitlin so that we can provide answers to her friends, family, and loved ones,” writes Supt. Sanjaya Wijayakoon.
Over the past weekend, dozens of supporters rallied in honour of Caitlin and helped her family search roadsides and forests near Enderby, once again. The rally closed a small bridge, where Caitlin was last seen, for a ten-minute ceremony in her name.