Iqaluit, Nunavut - On May 26, 1986, Mary Ann Birmingham, 15, died at the hands of an unknown assailant who stabbed and mutilated her inside her family's housing unit near the beach.
She's one of the nearly 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls whose deaths and unexplained disappearances have provoked a Canada-wide demand for the national MMIW inquiry that the federal government is now preparing for.
Sevigny had flown back that day from Montreal, where her mother, Sarah Birmingham, had taken her little brother, the late Lyta Birmingham, to be treated for leukemia.
"I know now that I was in shock. But the RCMP officer I talked to at the station was very good at helping me out of it and getting me to talk," said Barbara Sevigny, who later became a trauma and grief counselor.
Police, however, were not able to solve the crime. Through the spring and summer of 1986, many Iqaluit residents were haunted by the knowledge that a brutal killer was likely still at large.
The late Fred Coman and the late Lionel Jones, along with other benefactors, put a up a $10,000 reward for information that could solve Mary Ann's murder.
For many months, Nunatsiaq News donated space every week to advertise the reward, but police could not find enough evidence to identify the killer and lay a charge.
In the fall of 1986, an Iqaluit man named Jopie Atsiqtaq murdered Pootoogoo Eyesiak, 21, and his mother, Oolayou Eyesiak, 51, using a kitchen knife.
Police arrested and charged him the next morning. Because the apparent facts were so similar, many Iqaluit residents believed Atsiqtaq was responsible also for the death of Mary Ann Birmingham.
It was Mary Ann's sister, Barbara Sevigny, now a counsellor with the Tungasuvvingat Inuit organization in Ottawa, who found Mary Ann Birmingham's body, some days after the teens's death.
For that reason, Justice David Marshall of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories decided that, to give Atsiqtaq a fair trial, a 12-person jury be chosen in Rankin Inlet and flown to Iqaluit.
In early 1988, that jury found Atsiqtaq guilty on two counts of second degree murder.
Marshall sentenced him to life in prison, with no eligibility for parole for 10 years. Atsiqtaq has never received parole and still serves out his sentence at a federal penitentiary.
In a letter to Nunatsiaq News that was never published, but shared with the court and admitted as evidence at trial, Atsiqtaq apologized for killing the mother and son, but emphatically denied any responsibility for Mary Ann's death.
Police later charged him with that crime, but after a preliminary inquiry, a territorial court judge found insufficient evidence to send him to trial.
No other arrests have occurred or suspects named in Mary's murder. Her older sister is active in the MMIW community and assists other families going through a similar process with their own missing or murdered family members. May Mary rest in presence and may her family and community receive justice.
Anyone with information about Birmingham's death can call the RCMP's tip line toll free at 1-844-370-7729, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
No recent updates. Today is June 17, 2021. This file may be out of date. Any update on this case, please contact us at email@example.com.
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