Police in Thunder Bay, Ont., to reinvestigate nine Indigenous deaths

TORONTO _ The deaths of at least nine Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, Ont., will be reinvestigated after an external review found serious flaws with the original probes, the city’s chief of police said this week.

In a presentation to the police services board, Chief Sylvie Hauth called for the establishment of a multi-discipline team to conduct the reinvestigations.

“Nine of the (service’s) sudden-death investigations … are so problematic, I recommend these cases be reinvestigated,” Hauth said in a letter to the board. “The multi-investigation team should establish a protocol for determining whether other … sudden-death investigations should be reinvestigated.”

One of Ontario’s police watchdogs, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director or OIPRD, had recommended another look at the nine deaths in a scathing report in December that determined racist attitudes had plagued and undermined the original probes.

Overall, the report concluded, the investigations were shoddy, and a “crisis of trust” existed between police and the city’s Indigenous community .

Hauth’s initial response to the report came under criticism when she acknowledged only unspecified “systemic barriers in policing” that had to be addressed. However, after the board acknowledged failing the Indigenous community, Hauth said “systemic racism” within the police service and board needed addressing.

In her report to the board on Tuesday, Hauth recommended reinvestigation of the deaths of Christine Gliddy, 28, Shania Bob, 18, Marie Spence, 30, Aaron Loon, 20, and Sarah Moonias, 57.

The other four cases Hauth said deserved another look are the deaths of Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Kyle Morrisseau, 17, and Jordan Wabasse, 15, which were subject to a coroner’s inquest. Several of the victims, all students from northern Ontario, were found drowned in or near city rivers.

The new team will also have to decide whether to re-open the probe into the death of Stacy DeBungee, 41, who was found in the McIntyre River in October 2015. Police declared the death to have been not suspicious _ even before autopsy results were in. The independent review director recommended disciplinary action against three officers.

Thunder Bay police officers who were part of the original investigations would not be involved in the new team, which would also include Indigenous officers and someone from outside the force.

Among the aims of a reinvestigation, Hauth said, was to find the truth and restore confidence of the public and affected communities and families in policing.

She recommended oversight of the new probes include a governance committee comprising, among others, a retired judge, the province’s chief coroner and the grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nation communities across northern Ontario.

Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said he looked forward to participation on the committee.

“The first step should be to meet with all committee members as soon as possible to develop our approach to this very important work, including development of a clear mandate, terms of reference and identification of required resources,” Fiddler said on Wednesday.

The hope is to have the reinvestigations concluded within a year, the police services board heard.

In response to the review director’s recommendations, Hauth said the police service has set up a major crimes unit to investigate homicides and other serious cases. Other reforms, such as having officers wear name tags and body cameras, and an enhanced Aboriginal liaison unit, remain in progress, she said.

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