Indigenous people can’t trust Thunder Bay police says Julian Falconer, lawyer representing families

Families who have lost loved ones in Thunder Bay recently have written to the Inspector General of Policing of Ontario calling for the city’s police services board to be dissolved and the police service disbanded.

Long-time lawyer Julian Falconer is representing the families of Corey Belesky and Jenna Ostberg.

The calls to disband the embattled Thunder Bay police service are not new. What is new is the role of Ryan Teschner, who began his mandate as inspector general of policing on April 2, 2024.

In an email, Teschner wrote that he was “reviewing both complaints carefully.”

Teschner acknowledged the inspector general “has the authority to disband a police service. However, that is a measure of last resort and only available where prior directions of the Inspector General, issued after an inspection, have not been complied with.”

Falconer says families have run out of options when looking for justice and believes things have not improved since the 2018 release of the landmark Broken Trust report that found systemic racism exists in the Thunder Bay police service at an institutional level.

“When you look at the passage of time of the last six years, it’s done nothing but get worse,” says Falconer on the latest episode of Face to Face.

The chief of police at that time was JP Levesque. He faced criminal charges and was ultimately acquitted but he eventually faced criminal charges. The next chief of police, Sylvie Hauth, has a similar story. She also faces criminal charges. The chief lawyer for the Thunder Bay police service now faces criminal charges in respect of obstruct. The tales of decline in respect of that service continue. Indigenous people cannot trust that police service,” says Falconer.

“Indigenous people, when they lose a loved one, shouldn’t be re-traumatized by the reality that they can’t get help but that’s what’s going on in Thunder Bay, they can’t get help,” says Falconer.

The Broken Trust report found nine sudden death investigations of Indigenous people in Thunder bay were “so problematic” that they needed to be reinvestigated.

A confidential report obtained by APTN News in February 2022 discovered an additional 14 sudden deaths of Indigenous people that should be investigated.

That report also reviewed 25 unresolved MMIWG cases in Thunder Bay that have remained open and unresolved.

“We don’t we just tell the truth and say we don’t care. Why are we doing the façade anymore?” asks Falconer. “Twenty to 30 deaths are lined up in an investigation and they’re all stalled. They call it Project Cedar, it’s Project BS. They’re not moving. The cases aren’t being resolved. They go back decades now. Stacey DeBungee died in 2015. His brother got told in 2021 that they were going to make it a criminal investigation. Do you think we have a result, no,” says Falconer.

Falconer, who is a well known figure in the Canadian legal community and recognized as one of the country’s top human rights lawyers represented Nishnawbe Aski Nation at the seven youths inquest.

Held in Thunder Bay between October 2015 and June 2016, its goal was to examine the circumstances surround the deaths of the seven youth and prevent future deaths of youths from First Nations during the course of their high school education in Thunder Bay.

The bodies of at least three teenagers have been found in Thunder Bay waterways since that time, including 14-year-old Mackenzie Moonias, who was attending school in the city.

Moonias was found deceased on the city’s waterfront in December 2023.

Her family and the chief of Neskantaga First Nation, Moonias’ home nation, are also calling for a re-investigation into her death and for the police service to be disbanded.

Reflecting on the inquest, Falconer says he “feels like an utter failure.”

The recommendation from the inquest are a “work in progress” but the “same problems keep happening,” he says.

“I was examining one of the police officers on how it was, he could be involved in issuing a press release saying no foul play was suspected in one of the deaths of one of the youths when no autopsy had been performed, when none of the basic steps of a death investigation had even been done yet but they’d already dubbed it an accident or a non-homicide,” recounts Falconer

“I’m in the middle of examining the officer and by the next morning in 2015, Stacey DeBungee passes and his body is found by the McIntyre and what comes out while the officer is on the stand, is another press release declaring that that death was non-suspicious.”

In 2023, one of the police officers who worked on the sudden death investigation of Stacey DeBungee was found guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty for his mishandling of the 2015 death.

Contribute Button