First Nations leaders in Thunder Bay are calling for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to step in and take over for the city’s police service, which they believe has bungled investigations into the deaths of three community members in the city’s waterways.
In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler slammed the force’s inability “to conduct competent and credible investigations into the epidemic of deaths of NAN and Treaty No. 3 community members in Thunder Bay’s rivers.”
The force is already under investigation for systemic racism by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director for the way it’s handled deaths of Indigenous people.
Earlier this month, the bodies of 17-year-old Tammy Keeash and 14-year-old Josiah Begg were found — about two weeks apart — in the Neebing-McIntyre floodway. It was the death of Stacy DeBungee who was found in the river in the fall of 2015, however, that prompted the OIPRD review.
But First Nations leaders now want the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to immediately start looking at the Thunder Bay Police Services Board’s ‘administrative failures’ — the board is the civilian body tasked with setting policing policy and general management of police operations in the community.
The leaders have formally complained to Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Correctional Services, asking for the RCMP to be brought in to investigate the deaths, and they’re demanding an administrator be appointed to oversee the police board “and for a broader review of the Board’s conduct and utter lack of leadership,” said Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard.
“Death investigations are extremely time sensitive, and each day that passes significantly impacts the ability of competent investigators to get at the truth about the river deaths,” said a news release. “The deaths of Indigenous people in waterways have reached a frequency and number that maintaining the status quo risks increasing the likelihood of another river death.”
In a lengthy response on Wednesday, board chair Brian McKinnon said the board’s role isn’t to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the police service, but to provide civilian oversight. And while the board acknowledged systemic racism as a barrier to Indigenous people, “a police service cannot cure systemic racism,” a much broader issue than relationships between police and Indigenous communities, said the statement.
“We accept that our Service has a role to play,” it continued. “The board and the service continue to support and participate in the ongoing OIPRD review. That includes a review of systemic racism in policing in Ontario.”