Hours before vanishing, Ambar Roy walked out of the Iqaluit RCMP detachment

Released the morning of March 13, then refused a flight south, Ambar jumped out of a taxi and ran off into the hills

RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott speaks to Amal Roy, the father of Ambar Roy, on March 24, before searchers prepared to head out on the land to look for the 18-year-old, missing since March 13. Elliott has now confirmed that Ambar was taken into police custody during the early morning hours of March 13 and released that morning at 9:15. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

When Ambar Roy tried once again during the early morning hours of March 13 to sleep at Iqaluit’s so-called damp shelter, he wasn’t allowed in.

He was 18—a year younger than the shelter’s minimum age.

Now the RCMP have finally confirmed they were called in and took the university student into police custody at the RCMP detachment for intoxication.

Ambar Roy’s parents put up posters around the city of Iqaluit, hoping for leads on their son’s disappearance. Some remained up after March 27, when the search for the missing teenager was called off. (File photo)

Previously, the police had said Roy’s whereabouts that night had “no bearing on his disappearance.” 

Early on March 13, the last day he was seen anywhere in Iqaluit, Roy ended up in the Iqaluit RCMP detachment’s cells, although Roy was not as intoxicated as many teenagers his age who are taken there, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott.

Elliott agreed to speak to Nunatsiaq News to clear up some confusion in the timeline of Roy’s last three days before his disappearance, after he arrived in Iqaluit on March 11 to visit his parents, Bijoya and Amal Roy.

Elliott said “we don’t report on everything we do,” referring to the various questions raised about Roy’s activities from March 11 to March 13.

“Yes, lots of people are curious, but unfortunately unless it’s had some impact on an investigation we don’t go to the nth degree on every detail,” Elliott said.

Roy’s visit to Iqaluit appears to have veered off in a bad direction on March 11, shortly after the teenager stepped off a Canadian North jet at the Iqaluit airport.

Roy was found vaping on the ramp right after his flight landed. He was removed from the area for using the handheld vaping device, which simulates the experience of smoking a cigarette and is prohibited on the ramp.

From the airport, Roy went home, but it didn’t go well. An argument ensued, resulting in Roy leaving, Elliott said.

“He ended up at the damp shelter. As a result of him not being 19 he was turned away and he went back home. He spent that night back home,” Elliott said.

Social services were not called in during this or other official encounters with Roy in the two days before he vanished out on the land.

“Why would we call social services for an adult?” Elliott said. “He was 18 years old.”

On March 12, Roy tried to get on a flight to Ottawa in order to head back to Waterloo, where he was a student at the University of Waterloo with his older brother.

Roy went to the airport, left his parents’ place, but was denied his flight “due to vaping again,” Elliott said.

“He was not allowed to board,” he said.

After that Roy hopped in a taxi. Police have learned that Roy didn’t pay for any of the taxis he took in Iqaluit from March 11 to March 13, but did a “jump and run,” without paying his fare.

“That happens here a lot,” Elliott said.

Police have traced Roy to the Legion, where you are supposed to be 19 to enter, and to the Frobisher Inn, where he had worked the previous summer, and then to the damp shelter where Roy tried to go during the early hours of the morning of March 13.

“They contacted us. He was taken into custody for being intoxicated,” Elliott said.

There no issue with Roy, who was polite, the police who picked him up told Elliott, who did not have the details about Roy’s time in detention.

Police released Roy at about 9:15 a.m. on March 13.

Elliott said he doesn’t know if Roy’s parents knew where he was: his mother told Nunatsiaq News in a telephone call earlier this month that they still thought he had returned to Ontario at that point.

As to why Roy received no intervention before his release, Elliott said, “we’re not mind readers, either. ”

“Our policy is very clear,” he said: if there’s any mention of self-harm, people who are released meet with mental health workers.

Many intoxicated kids come through the detachment, due to problems at home, and leave in the morning. There was nothing to distinguish Roy just “because he’s 18 years old and has a disagreement with his parents,” said Elliott.

So on the morning of March 13 Roy walked off, took a taxi and went back to the airport.

“He met with Canadian North people with regards to his inability to fly and, after that discussion was finished, he took another cab. At that point, he was dropped on the Road to Nowhere,” Elliiot said.

The taxi driver who drove Roy initially told police he drove him to the Road to Nowhere a day later than he did. But the police couldn’t find evidence of Roy at the airport or anywhere else on March 14.

Some confusion also remains over exactly where Roy was dropped off.

A taxi dispatcher told Nunatsiaq News that Roy was let out at the last apartment building in the Road to Nowhere subdivision. But Elliot said the police believe he was let out earlier, at a bridge under construction along the road.

Down this empty road, which is sometimes blocked with snow, there’s a bridge under construction. That’s where police maintain Ambar Roy was dropped off by a taxi on March 13, although the dispatcher says he was left further up the road, at the last apartment building in the Road to Nowhere subdivision. (Photo by Jane George)

There, as Elliott told it, Roy hopped out of the taxi and ran off. The taxi driver stayed a while and honked his horn before leaving.

“The tracks that we start to find from there show a running mode, not walking, long and wide,” Elliott said.

Searchers followed the tracks into the hills, which could have provided cover from the taxi driver’s view, Elliott said.

From that point, Roy is thought to have headed towards the Arctic Winter Games Arena, then looped around towards Apex and back.

“We picked up those tracks which went way way up past Upper Base,” Elliott said. “We were shocked at how far Ambar actually walked”—about 10 kilometres in frigid temperatures and inadequate clothing.

The search was finally called off on March 27.

The RCMP said “given the time frame since Ambar has been last seen, it is believed Ambar has succumbed to the elements. Any further search would be considered a recovery versus a rescue mission.”

Young people are known for risky behaviour, said Elliott. Even so, Roy’s actions remain hard for the police to understand.

“Not every question is answered,” Elliott said. “I’m at a loss for words here.”

Elliott told how in Iqaluit recently an individual with no history of mental illness was spotted far out out on the bay ice, dressed in light clothing. Police were able to retrieve the walker, who had no intention of coming back, he said.

“Some days we just don’t end up with all the answers.”

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    There was a lot of dropped balls in this situation from family to the various public agencies who came into contact with Ambar. We all need to learn a lesson here that sometimes we need to take an extra step down the road to humanity to make sure someone is looked after when obviously they can’t tale care of themselves. I’m sure everyone is wishing they had done things differently. It is a very sad situation for all but ultimately the decisions which were made were made by Ambar. May he rest in peace.

  2. Posted by Rachel Seepola Michael – Female Youth , 23 years old on

    1. With such high rate of suicide among young men and people in Nunavut, whether or not Ambar Roy was from here, all the people helping services that helped him should be trained to ALWAYS be asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” when they are interacting with, conducting interviews and interventions with young men, whether or not they are showing signs of suicidal ideation or not. So many times Ambar Roy was CLEARLY at imminent risk of danger to himself.

    2.“Why would we call social services for an adult?” Elliott said. “He was 18 years old.” Ambar Roy was not an adult yet, his brain wasn’t fully developed until he would have turned at least 25. He wasn’t even considered adult enough to be allowed into the damp shelter or at the Legion!

    3. “We’re not mind reader either”. No one can read minds what happened here is the RCMP Missed, Dismissed, or avoided the conversation about what to do next that could have saved Ambar Roys life.

    4. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!! WE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING IN A CULTURE OF SILENCE AND THE CULTURE OF “oh you’re too young to be here”, “Sorry there is nowhere else for you to go but be in a cold Drunk tank cell” “Someone else will deal with it” This needs to change and it starts with you, yes you, reading this comment.

    5. Answer me this. What are you going to do today, tomorrow or in the coming days, months and years to save someone’s life? What are you going to do today to help our young people?

    6. Who is going to build or start a homeless shelter for youth or safe shelters for the ‘ghost walkers’ on the street all hours of the night? If it’s not you that is going to help then who? We youth in Nunavut need safe spaces! 51% of our population is under the age of 35! The population of Nunavummiut in 2018 was 38,650 and 19,617, of that were people ages 0-34 years old. 18,661 were 0-29 years old that’s 49%. 6,447 are youth 15-29 years old that’s 17%! Qanuqtuu!? What do we do? We don’t want you (Adults and older people 35+) to just be to be hopeful that we figure it out ourselves through lived experience because it’s clearly not working.

    7. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear that I feel every day. And then I want you to act… I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.” -Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist. #RiseTogether

    8. I pray to all the higher powers that people around in the world pray to, that Ambar Roys parents find their son’s body to have that closure and peace of mind. May his spirit rest in peace.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Very well said! All too often older folks like myself simply assume that young adults have all the resources they need to get by, and if they don’t … that they will simply figure it as my generation did. Times have changed and this is no longer the case, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that we ask the right questions of the young people in our care and not simply assume “that they will figure it for themselves”, because far far too often they cannot and do not.

    • Posted by Walk and Talk on

      As sad as this story is, we’ll never know the complete background and what triggered the decisions made. You made some valuable points, but as usual as it is in the northern territories, it is always someones fault. It’s not that I’m seeking for the reasons why the youth is experiencing too many issues, mostly mental or alcohol related in the north, it has to start at home. It’s easy to point fingers to readers of Nunatsiaq News, or to point out the age averages, but this is nobodies fault but the boys and girls who don’t use birth control, especially if you do not have the financial and infrastructure needs to raise a child. I feel deeply for the family, but you nor I don’t know what has happened in this case. However, walk the walk before you can talk the talk

    • Posted by Charlotte Carleton on

      This could have been prevented, poor boy ! ? My gosh this is really sickening how people keep dying and not much is being done about this.. man the comment about him being an adult sowhy call social services?? The eff? .. it’s a phone call. One phone call to people who actually care enough tohelp him and people who need help.
      Rachel my friend, we need more people like you who give a shit about our community- Inuit or non-
      I’m sad to hear this, yet again.

    • Posted by WESTFOLK on

      Okay Rachel, what are you going to do, please advise ?
      As I am sure you are well aware that in NUNAVUT we have all kinds of EXPERTS, who are in housing, education, social work,
      recreation for youth & elders, who couldn’t find their bottom
      with ten fingers, they get paid very good wages for their
      employment. They get a lot of duty travel for this.
      Are you going to make those people accountable for their
      incompetence ? ?

  3. Posted by wow – so disappointed on

    I am SHOCKED at the comments made by this RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott.
    His comments show the lack of disregard the RCMP has for issues of this nature.
    Why was Ray placed in RCMP cells on March 13 if he was not intoxicated? Is that even legal?
    The damp shelter also needs to explain what support they provided to Ray the first night he was turned away. It’s also a bit extreme to turn someone away who was just 1 year less than the 19 years old age requirement and I want to know who determines the age requirements for shelters in Nunavut and when exceptions can be made if it means keeping someone safe for even a night. Clearly Nunavut needs more shelters and services for youth and young adults because they have NO SAFE PLACE TO GO in times of crisis.
    For this RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott to say” We are not mind readers”. How RUDE AND INSENSITIVE??????? The RCMP is trained to detect and assess when people are in crisis and it was evident that this young man was. Clearly the RCMP in this situation lacked the competence and training to properly assess that this young man was at risk. Expressing self-harm is NOT the only red flag for someone in crisis and for this RCMP Staff Sgt to say that he did now know this youth was in crisis because he is not a “mind reader” is mind blowing, disappointed, RUDE and insensitive.

    • Posted by Markoosie on

      S/Sgt. Elliott’s comments weren’t rude and insensitive. They were the truth. The police, wet shelter, parents all aren’t mind readers. None of them saw this coming. Ambar was clearly a troubled youth, we are learning from the media coverage. Just because the truth is difficult to hear does not change the fact that S/Sgt. Elliott’s comments were the truth. They’re not mind readers, none of us are. No one, including Ambar’s closest friends and family didn’t see this happening. This was Ambars choice, which unfortunately, was his last choice.

  4. Posted by confused on

    “Many intoxicated kids come through the detachment, due to problems at home, and leave in the morning. There was nothing to distinguish Roy just “because he’s 18 years old and has a disagreement with his parents.” Am I the only one bothered by how this RCMP officer is making this seem NORMAL? Like it’s no big deal that kids or youth or young adults in Nunavut would rather sleep in a jail than go home? This is what happens when RCMP officers start to become desensitized and stop caring because I guarantee this would NEVER happen in the South. If an 18 year old would rather sleep in a jail than go home-that is a MAJOR RED FLAG.

    • Posted by Your Guarantees are Worthless on

      This happens in the south all the time. It’s happened to me in the south.

    • Posted by Seep on

      I can guarantee this happens in the south as well. Like the other comment, I have seen it in “the south” as well. Believe it, there are troubled kids in every province and territory. The things that you think are only “normal” in Nunavut are “normal” everywhere. We’re just a smaller community here, so everyone know everyone’s business. But these are National issues in Inuit and non Inuit communities.

  5. Posted by how is an 18 year old “an adult”???? on

    “Why would we call social services for an adult?” Elliott said. “He was 18 years old.” So, an 18-year-old is an “adult” now? To me, an 18-year-old is still a young person. And Social/Family Services in Nunavut can provide support to an 18 year old according to legislation! Simply put, the RCMP and the other agencies did not care ENOUGH and it’s sad because now a young man is presumed to be dead. It takes someone dying for people to care. I am still hoping and praying he is alive somewhere. Sending prayers to all families in Nunavut who have a loved one missing……….may you be comforted.

    • Posted by 59009 on

      I agree with you. He’s considered an adult at 18 years old, but turned away from the shelter because he’s not 19…then why is 18 considered an ‘adult’? Then social services won’t accept him because he’s 18. So is 18 years old just the magic number where you cannot get any help from anywhere?

  6. Posted by Nunya on

    I’m shocked by the number of people, who are shocked at the RCMP, damp shelter, family, airlines etc.
    Ambar was intoxicated according to this, not grossly intoxicated. You don’t have to be falling down drunk to end up in jail. The shelter called because Ambar was intoxicated and likely a problem.
    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess, based on what I have read, Ambar didn’t tell the police where he lived so he could be taken home as he was arguing with his parents. So, for his safety, while sobering, he was put in jail.
    Ambar is 18 and made no suicidal mention to police. Adults (18 is legally an adult in Canada) don’t get referred to Child and Family Services, unless they give a reason. Believe it or not, CFS is extremely overworked in Iqaluit. The RCMP lodges 2925 people into cells (some people repeatedly) from 2018, based on their crime stats. It is impossible to do a proactive interview with every person. If they were to do a quick 15 minute interview, that would take 6 months each year of someone’s time. Again, based on reports from the RCMP they need, and have asked, for 16 more police officers in Iqaluit to keep up with their demands. This town needs to wake up, this wasn’t the failing of the RCMP or Social Services or the Wet Shelter. This was a poor decision by Ambar, unfortunately it cost him his life. If you want all of the proactive services you are asking for, you need to staff these departments properly. The GN is the big driving factor here for funding. The deny increasing staff in these departments year after year. Then expect to solve more issues as populations rise with the same amount of people. It’s absolutely crazy.
    People need to stop blaming everyone and expecting (I agree with SSgt Elliott’s comment) police to mind read. We have overworked our departments in Iqaluit and the public needs to think about this. This is an unfortunate situation, but it was a young mans choice. Everyone followed their policies, if Ambar asked for help, he would have received help. We can’t (all of us) read minds.

  7. Posted by Seriously? on

    Why is no one questioning how an 18 year old was served at the Legion? Perhaps all those steps towards his disappearance where people are laying blame might have been avoided if he was sober.

  8. Posted by Think About It on

    He was legally an adult. Mentally, he was far from it. From the behaviour that was demonstrated with his disregard for the rules at the airport on smoking, he seems like a spoiled brat. Not paying for multiple taxi rides shows a lack of respect and a sense of entitlement.

    What happened to him is terrible but his actions put him at risk for the events that happened to him. Stop blaming the RCMP, the Damp Shelter, his parents, etc. it was his actions that caused the situation to end as it did.

    • Posted by Mental health on

      Maybe he was suffering from mental illness? You’re comments are extremely insensitive and just plain ignorant. You should really educate yourself and think before you speak. No one in their right mind walks off on the frozen tundra, improperly dressed, because they “are a spoiled brat”. You are exactly what is wrong with this world. You’ve obviously never suffered from any sort of mental health issues or else you’d know that those suffering do not think rationally and make very impulsive decisions. This young man tried to seek help several times but the system failed him… maybe they also thought he was “a spoiled brat”. I hope to god you are never at the door or front line of any one seeking help, you just may cost someone their life. Your comment is disgusting and is a testament to the type of person you are, you should be ashamed of yourself. That poor family and that poor young man.

    • Posted by Iqaluit89 on

      Exactly!! Finally someone has said what many have been thinking!!

  9. Posted by Evelyn Thordarson on

    A person is an adult at 18 years of age regardless of your brain not in adult for till 25 years old.
    It is tragic that this young fellow has succumbed to his circumstances…..but in order to Social Services to be called this young adult would have to give his permission as he is an adult under southern law. My question is who supplied this fellow with alcohol and why are they not charged with serving a minor.Just because he is legal to drink in the South does not mean he is legal in the North as their drinking age is 19. Don’t blame the RCMP.. and don’t assume everyone is suicidal …because this fellow made the choice to run off from the taxi driver ride and dash there is no one to blame but himself.

  10. Posted by Hilary on

    I agree with the comments made by ‘Mental Health’, and others who similarly believe.

    Given the frigid weather conditions, why was a helicopter not used to search for Mr. Roy?

    The remarks made by Sgt. Elliot are indicative of disregard for a vulnerable person – despite their age which should not enter into deciding on safety.


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