Police say their search for Frank Gruben “remains very active” following concerns expressed by the 30-year-old’s family and MLA Lesa Semmler.
Frank was last seen in Fort Smith on May 6. An RCMP investigation has been unfolding alongside a volunteer-led search that took place daily for two weeks before “exhausted” searchers began stepping back.
So far, there has been no reported sign of Frank nor any public suggestion of a development in the investigation.
The Gruben family criticized the RCMP’s response to Frank’s disappearance in a Friday CBC report.
“We’re not really being updated. There’s not a lot being done … I’m very furious and outraged with them,” Frank’s brother, Steven Gruben, was quoted as saying by the broadcaster.
In the NWT legislature on Thursday, Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler said an RCMP statement earlier in the week – suggesting there was no evidence of foul play related to Frank’s disappearance – “shook me to my core.”
“If there’s no foul play, then where is he? He wouldn’t just disappear,” Semmler said, adding that family members had expressed concern to her that RCMP were “not doing enough to find him.”
“If Frank was a non-Indigenous person from a wealthy family, would there be more done? That’s what goes to my mind,” the MLA said.
Frank, who is from Aklavik and studying in Fort Smith, is Inuvialuit and Gwich’in.
In an email to Cabin Radio, RCMP spokesperson Insp Dean Riou stated: “We respect the family’s frustration that Mr Gruben has yet to be located. Our investigation into Mr Gruben’s whereabouts remains very active, and our members are doing everything they can to locate him and ensure his well-being.
“To ensure the integrity of our ongoing investigation remains intact, we decline to elaborate what investigative steps are being undertaken.”
Riou added: “If Mr Gruben is reading this and is simply not wanting to be located, we encourage him to allow us to confirm his well-being, and assure him we will not divulge his whereabouts without his permission. If anyone has any information related to his whereabouts, we encourage them to contact their local RCMP detachment.”
‘What if this was your son?’
In the legislature, Semmler asked NWT justice minister RJ Simpson to intervene and “ensure that RCMP in Fort Smith have all the staff they need and any missing persons expertise to continue the investigation to bring Frank home.”
Simpson, responding, noted that he cannot direct the RCMP but said he had spoken to the NWT’s commanding officer.
“I know that he is concerned, the RCMP are concerned,” Simpson said.
“I feel for the mother. This is unimaginable. This is every parent’s nightmare. And so I think that if I was the same position, I would also feel that people weren’t doing enough.”
Simpson also addressed a concern expressed by RCMP earlier in the week that the NWT’s lack of missing persons legislation is hindering their investigation into Frank’s disappearance.
Police in the majority of Canadian jurisdictions can use legislation to order companies or institutions to turn over records that might help them find someone. The NWT, however, has no Missing Persons Act.
The territory has committed to introducing that legislation but the Department of Justice said it was not now expected until 2024.
“We were hoping to get it done this term, get it introduced, but it’s taking longer than we’d hoped,” Simpson admitted in the legislature.
He said more work needed to be done consulting with RCMP and GNWT departments because “it’s a piece of legislation that impacts a lot of different departments and other pieces of legislation.”
Semmler issued a plea for anyone with information about Frank’s whereabouts and well-being to come forward.
“It’s my understanding that the RCMP has no tips from the public on Frank’s disappearance,” she said, referring to a police statement earlier in the week that officers were waiting for fresh leads to come in.
“On behalf of his family, please,” said Semmler. “If anyone has any information, no matter how small or unimportant they think it might be, tell the RCMP or reach out to Crime Stoppers, even if they’re scared and want to do it anonymously.
“What if this was your son? What if this was your brother, your cousin, your nephew, your grandson? His family needs to find him, and they need to bring him home.”