(Stacy DeBungee was pulled from a Thunder Bay river in 2015.)
APTN National News
An Ontario First Nation leader is questioning the motivation behind the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner’s decision to reveal the force reviewed Thunder Bay police’s botched death investigation of an Indigenous man found in one of the city’s rivers.
Thunder Bay police said Tuesday it had no plans to release the OPP report.
OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes on Monday issued a statement revealing his police force had “recently completed” a review of Thunder Bay police’s flawed investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee, an Ojibway man, who was pulled from the McIntryre River at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2015.
Hawkes’ statement was aimed directly at Rainy River First Nation Chief Jim Leonard, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh who held a press conference last week criticizing the OPP for refusing to investigate the DeBungee case. The three leaders also called for the RCMP to step in and investigate DeBungee’s case because the region’s Indigenous communities had lost faith in the Thunder Bay police and the OPP.
Leonard responded in a letter sent to Hawkes Tuesday questioning the OPP top cop’s motive in suddenly revealing the review of the case. The news came as a surprise to DeBungee’s family and to private investigator David Perry who broke open the case after finding four people who had contact with DeBungee before his death—people who were never interviewed by Thunder Bay police.
“That you now announce that a review has been ‘recently’ conducted by the OPP is surprising and troubling for several reasons. Why keep this from the family or me in the face of all our requests dating back to July 2016?” said Leonard in the letter which was also carbon copied to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. “Why did you announce this development publicly on June 5, 2017, without a word of notice to me or the family? Why a mere “review” of the TBPS file when what we sought was an independent investigation? What does “recent” mean? Is it coincident with our letter seeking the intervention of the RCMP?”
Leonard’s letter also itemized a number of requests made by the chief, his lawyer, and the DeBungee family for the OPP to review the case. Each of those requests were met with silence from the OPP, according to the letter.
In an interview Tuesday, Perry told APTN he was not contacted by the OPP in the course of their review. Perry’s own investigation revealed serious flaws in how Thunder Bay police handled DeBungee’s death. Perry, a former top Toronto police homicide detective, quickly found four people who were with DeBungee the evening before his death. Perry told APTN DeBungee’s debit card was also used after his death and that his identification cards were strewn at the scene along with identification belonging to another individual who has not yet been tracked.
Thunder Bay police spokesperson Chris Adams said in an emailed statement the OPP review of the case would not be released because it “is an investigative report.”
The chiefs also want the RCMP to investigate the cases of Tammy Keeash, 17, who was living in a group home and found dead in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on May 7 and of Josiah Begg, 14, who was found dead in the McIntyre River on May 18.
Serious questions still remain around the deaths of three of seven First Nation youth who were the subject of a coroner’s inquest which ended in June 2016. Five of the seven youth died in Thunder Bay’s waterways and three of those deaths were found to be “undetermined.”
Perry said there is a strong possibility foul play could be behind some of these deaths. The scenario has also been raised by lawyer Julian Falconer, who represented the Nishnawbe Aski Nation during the inquest. The prospect is additionally heightened by at least two separate cases of Indigenous men who were attacked and thrown into a city waterway.
The city’s police service was recently rocked after its police chief J.P. Levesque was charged with breach of trust and obstruction of justice by the OPP for allegedly disclosing confidential information about Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs.