First Nations leaders step up calls for external oversight of ailing police department in Thunder Bay, Ontario

A growing number of First Nations leaders are calling for external oversight of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) as the Northwestern Ontario police force is in turmoil and pressure mounts on its leadership board and monitoring.

Community and regional leaders have not agreed on a clear action or direction to take to deal with the struggling police force. But the consensus among those who spoke to CBC News is that they don’t trust the force to serve Indigenous peoples.

“The Anishinabek Nation is appalled at the way policing is being managed in Thunder Bay,” said Melvin Hardy, Deputy Grand Chief of the Superior North Region for the Anishinabek Nation, which represents the interests of 39 First Nations in province, including those covered by the Robinson-Superior Treaty.

Indigenous people]who visit and live in the city “deserve to feel safe,” Hardy said. “They won’t be if they feel unfairly targeted or routinely ignored when a crime is committed against them.”

Hardy told CBC News he is asking the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to provide external oversight of Thunder Bay Police Services pending further conversations and actions.

Two weeks ago, Sol Mamakwa, the NDP’s provincial critic for Indigenous and treaty relations and MPP for Kiiwetinoong in northern Ontario, called on the Ontario Provincial Police to monitor TBPS. Additionally, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum has called for the Thunder Bay Police Department to be disbanded.

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Their requests came in the wake of a confidential report from the Attorney General of Ontario.

The final report from a joint investigative team that spent years combing through TBPS sudden death investigations has been leaked to some news outlets, including CBC News, and recommended re-investigating more sudden death deaths. ‘Indigenous.

Other leaders and organizations, including the chief of the First Nation just outside Thunder Bay and the Assembly of First Nations, say they too want to see more Indigenous and external oversight of municipal police.

Meeting of Indigenous groups to discuss next steps

The report details serious concerns about the investigations into 14 Indigenous people who died suddenly in the city between 2006 and 2019, and calls for a new investigation into these cases.

Two other cases, with similar investigative concerns, are slated for coroner’s review or inquest, and another 25 unsolved cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Thunder Bay should be looked into, investigators asked.

That’s at least 41 cases, and there could be more.

The report, which has been with the attorney general since March 2, begins with the disclaimer: “Due to the limited time and resources allocated to the process described in this report, the cases provided here are not an exhaustive list,” adding that there may be other cases of sudden death that “deserve further investigation”. It ends with recommending an external audit of all death investigations in the police department’s records management system.

(CBC News Graphics)

The Attorney General must decide on next steps, including when and how to notify families.

“It definitely takes action,” Hardy said. “It’s a time of uncertainty, but we fully support the families and will work together with NAN and with the city’s First Nations.”

Hardy said he and his team have spoken with other major First Nations organizations — like the NAN, the Chiefs of Ontario and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) — about how to address their concerns about treatment. Indigenous peoples in Thunder Bay.

In 2018, two police oversight bodies in Ontario released reports to TBPS and its oversight board. The two found evidence of systemic racism and issued a series of recommendations to help address the lack of trust between Indigenous people in Thunder Bay and the city’s police force.

TBPS reports annually on the implementation of these recommendations, and Police Chief Sylvie Hauth has previously told CBC News that reconciliation and relationship building with Indigenous communities is a priority for her.

Proposal for a joint Thunder Bay and First Nations policing model

Peter Collins, chief of the Fort William First Nation (FWFN), which has its reserve just outside Thunder Bay, said they had made progress in recent years to address the breakdown in trust.

“But then you face situations like this, and that trust is broken again,” Collins told CBC News.

“We have a lot of work to do to rebuild and regain that trust in the police organization. They have a tough job, but their job is not to overlook situations where First Nations people are found dead in some way. .”

Rather than appeal to the OPP, Collins said he would like to see more oversight of police departments and their investigations by First Nations.

Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins says revelations, such as those included in the confidential report to the Ontario Attorney General calling for a new investigation into the sudden deaths of 14 Indigenous people, have delayed efforts to improve trust between police and Aboriginal people. (Heather Kitching / Radio Canada)

Another approach could be to develop a joint police service or investigative team with First Nations police services, Collins said. An example of this type of policing might be if the Anishinabek Police Service, which offers to serve Fort William First Nation, worked in partnership with TBPS.

A joint initiative could help guard against failures to fully investigate Indigenous deaths, Collins said, adding that First Nations policing is already severely underfunded by governments.

“The province and the federal government really need to contribute to First Nations policing in our communities, and then we can really integrate to help municipal police fulfill their mandate and properly investigate sudden deaths,” he said. he declares.

“I don’t want to go down the road and see the same pattern of results.”

AFN Urges Indigenous Policing Changes

Assembly of First Nations BC Regional Chief Terry Teegee holds the AFN justice portfolio and monitors policing in Thunder Bay.

“Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that once again, in another police department, issues of racism are rampant,” he told CBC News, noting the number of Indigenous people who died in police custody. view and lack of urgency to resolve MMIWG cases.

British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee, pictured in this CBC file photo, says the systemic racism exhibited in the Thunder Bay Police Department is endemic to larger issues in the police departments across the country. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

There needs to be a review and systemic changes to police force practices and how they treat Indigenous, Black and people of color across Canada, Teegee said.

The report calling for a new investigation into more sudden deaths provides more evidence that a review of the Thunder Bay Police Department is needed, he added.

“If it’s endemic in terms of [police] misconduct and the way they conduct themselves, then quite simply that should be reviewed and maybe there is a new police force or a new opportunity to have a police force that is representative of everyone. »

Teegee added that disbanding TBPS is also an option as part of the ongoing conversation about the future of policing in Thunder Bay.