Within a heart-rendering span of seven months, Valerie Lafontaine endured the unthinkable – the loss of both her adult daughters. The scene of tragedy was the YWCA Regina, where they had been residing.
The first dreadful call for Valerie arrived on Christmas Day 2022, notifying her of the sudden death of her 32-year-old daughter, Andrea Lafontaine. The suspected cause was drug poisoning, although Valerie anxiously awaits the final coroner’s report for confirmation. According to the YWCA staff logs, her daughter was last seen alive at 5 a.m. and later found dead at 9 a.m., her lifeless body hunched over in her bed with a bottle of Narcan nestled in her purse.
Seven months later, Valerie weathered the second wave of grief when the police informed her of the death of her other daughter, Nicole Lafontaine, 31. This time the circumstances were equally grim. Nicole had fallen out of a fifth-floor window at the YWCA Regina and succumbed to her injuries in a nearby hospital.
Mirroring her mother’s sorrow, Valerie expressed her profound regret for not getting a chance to bid farewell to her daughters. The devastating loss has left her with an agonizing void, stating, “I got a lot of life to live myself and now I have two less children.”
The Regina police and the Saskatchewan Coroners Service (SCS) conducted a joint investigation following Nicole’s death. Their conclusion indicated that her injuries and subsequent death were not criminally caused. Meanwhile, Valerie harbors the belief that Nicole suffered from drug-induced psychosis due to fentanyl withdrawal when she met her untimely death.
The YWCA logs hint at Nicole’s changing behaviour and her struggle with drug withdrawal prior to her death. The personnel had been encouraged to do extra room checks for her and even attempted to connect her with a local harm reduction clinic. According to Valerie, Nicole, just like her sister Andrea, was actively seeking help and should have been closely monitored, not least because both daughters were fleeing abusive relationships. In Valerie’s view, the YWCA failed to provide the necessary care and support for her daughters.
Meanwhile, YWCA Regina reticently refrains from commenting on specific cases. Its CEO, Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, reassures that every death in the institution is under internal review. She affirms that each client of YWCA receives a personalised case management plan that includes a comprehensive safety plan for those grappling with active addictions, which governs the frequency of check-ins and the scope of needed support.
Immeasurable pain is added to Valerie’s ordeal by the delay in receiving the final corona’s report on Andrea’s death. According to the SCS, receiving a final autopsy report typically takes between four to six months, but certain cases may require more time.
In the wake of this tragedy, increased security and better training in identifying warning signs associated with drug-induced psychosis are amongst the improvements that Valerie hopes for. She stresses, “I want some accountability. I don’t want any other parents to have to go through this anymore.”
The YWCA’s CEO argues that increased surveillance cameras and “policing” do not necessarily lead to fewer cases of drug poisoning. Instead, she advocates for a “healing journey” which includes comprehensive support services, believing such an approach is key to effecting positive change.