Leaders call for RCMP to probe Thunder Bay deaths

Leaders call for RCMP to probe Thunder Bay deaths

TORONTO — Deep distrust of police in a northwestern Ontario city has prompted area indigenous chiefs to ask for the RCMP to investigate the recent deaths of teens in the community.

Three chiefs travelled to the provincial legislature on Wednesday to plead for the Mounties’ intervention as well as increased oversight of the police services board in Thunder Bay, Ont.

They say the deaths of two teens whose bodies were pulled from local waterways earlier this month continue what they call an ongoing trend of indifference on the part of Thunder Bay police.

They also noted the similar death of another indigenous person in 2015 that touched off an official probe into the force’s practices around investigating the deaths or disappearances of indigenous people.

Previously, the force’s actions were also scrutinized at an inquest probing the deaths of seven students who had come to Thunder Bay to pursue an education beyond their remote fly-in communities.

Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard said the long, fraught history with local police has finally brought local First Nations leaders to the end of their collective rope.

“It’s our view that the Thunder Bay police cannot fix this,” Leonard said at a press conference. They’ve shown that they’re not able to come to any conclusion other than the deaths are non-suspicious and non-criminal, which doesn’t hold any water with us.”

The Thunder Bay Police Services Board said it takes issue with some of the chiefs’ assertions. It noted that while systemic racism is an issue plaguing indigenous communities, the problem goes well beyond relationships with police.

“A police service cannot cure systemic racism. We accept that our service has a role to play,” it said in the statement posted on the Thunder Bay police force’s website.

According to the chiefs, however, the solution to the situation in Thunder Bay lies in asking another force to take over the investigation into the deaths of Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg.

Keeash, 17, was in care at a Thunder Bay group home, far from her community of North Caribou Lake First Nation. Her body was pulled from the Neebing McIntyre floodway on May 8, seven hours after she was reported missing.

Days later, the body of 14-year-old Begg from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation was found in the McIntyre River after a lengthy search.

The chiefs have also tried to get another force to investigate the death of Stacy DeBungee who was pulled from the same river in October 2015. According to a statement posted on his family’s lawyer’s website, DeBungee’s death was publicly declared to be non-suspicious within three hours of when his body was found and non-criminal the next day.

DeBungee’s family filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which has since been expanded to include the deaths of Keeash and Begg.

When indigenous leaders appealed last summer for Ontario Provincial Police to take over the DeBungee file, the chiefs said the force declined on the grounds that the review was still underway.

On Wednesday, Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh of Grand Council Treaty 3 said the RCMP remained the community’s only option for justice.

He said the situation in Thunder Bay is representative of what’s happening in other communities, adding two young girls recently died under similar circumstances in his territory.

“It’s incomprehensible to me what I’m hearing, what I’m reading in the media in Thunder Bay, that each time someone is pulled out of the water, and it’s aboriginal young people, the same conclusion always comes out. That it’s no foul play, end of investigation,” he said.

The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The chiefs also called for an administrator to step in and oversee the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, alleging it does not respond to their concerns and avoids involvement with issues they raise.

Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he’s filed a complaint to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission seeking the administrator.

The commission said Wednesday in an email its investigation “will be focused on the nature of the civilian oversight provided by the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.”

“Ultimately, there is a public interest in ensuring that the board is meeting its obligations,” spokeswoman Sarah Copeland said.

The Thunder Bay Police Services Board said it had been notified that the commission has launched an investigation.

“We welcome this investigation without reservation and will co-operate fully,” it said. “The board recognizes the need for public confidence in the police service and its governance.”

The board also said it is co-operating with the OIPRD review and has taken proactive measures to improve relations with Thunder Bay’s indigenous population.

These include updates to protocols for reporting missing persons, as well as partnering with Nishnawbe Aski Nation legal services as a liaison for those who are fearful of dealing with local police. The board said the force has also implemented foot patrols in high-risk areas since the fall of 2016.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

WATCH: From humble beginnings Red Deer-based wrestling promotion is growing

It wasn’t that long ago that Dylon Featherstone and the Canadian Wrestling… Continue reading

WATCH: Families make yo-yos and weaved yarn at Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery

It was all about making yo-yos and yarn bombing at Red Deer… Continue reading

Solve mysteries with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Red Deer

At three sold-out one act Sherlock Holmes plays in Red Deer, theatre… Continue reading

Quebec man arrested in slaying of Alberta woman 16 years ago

AIRDRIE, Alta. — A Quebec man has been arrested in the slaying… Continue reading

Construction underway at Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Red Deer

The new building is twice the size of the old one

WATCH Replay Red Deer Feb. 18: Your weekly news highlights

Watch news from Red Deer and Central Alberta

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Liberals looking at creating use-it-or-lose-it leave for fathers, Trudeau says

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is raising the idea of creating… Continue reading

Trump gets angry about election meddling, but not at Russia

‘Weirdest thing’: Trump expresses anger, but not over Russian election-meddling

New doping charge could hurt Russia’s chance at reinstatement

Russia could lose its chance to be reinstated before the end of the Winter Olympics because of a doping charge against curling bronze medallist Alexander Krushelnitsky.

#Metoo movement causing confusion in many men, fear of missteps with women: experts

Being painted by the same sweeping brush as those alleged to have mistreated women has angered men

Virtue and Moir break their own world record

Virtue and Moir break short dance record to sit first in ice dance at Olympics

Calgary man dies in Mexico following sudden illness

Troy Black was with his wife, Lindsay, in Puerto Vallarta when he began vomiting blood on Thursday

Life or death main decision for school shooting suspect

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The evidence against the Florida school shooting suspect… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month