APTN National News
An Ontario regional police force is stepping in to help investigate the deaths of two Indigenous youth found in Thunder Bay’s waterways last month.
The Chief Coroner of Ontario Dirk Huyer has asked York Regional Police Service to step in and work with the Thunder Bay police to investigate the deaths of Josiah Begg, 14, and Tammy Keeash, 17. Begg was found dead in the McIntyre River on May 18 and Keeash was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on May 7.
Nishnawbi-Aski Police Service is also assisting York police with the investigations.
Huyer said the York police would be reporting directly to him.
“This is engaging York Regional Police under my authority and reporting to me to take the necessary investigative steps they believe are required to give us the best answers to the circumstances of these deaths,” said Huyer. “They will learn what information has been currently identified by the Thunder Bay Police Service and by other investigations that have occurred from our office… they will determine what the next steps they need to follow and they will be reporting to me.”
Thunder Bay police acting Chief Sylvie Hauth said the city force supported the Chief Coroner’s request.
“The Thunder Bay police service supports this joint effort and will continue to work on behalf of Tammy and Josiah’s families and their communities,” said Hauth, in a statement. “These additional investigative resources and support serve the families’ and the public’s interest.”
The intervention of York police, which patrols a region northeast of Toronto, comes after northern Ontario First Nation leaders called for an RCMP intervention in the region.
Nishnawbe Aski Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh and Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard called on the Mounties to intervene because the area’s Anishinaabe community no longer had any confidence in Thunder Bay police’s investigations of deaths involving Indigenous peoples.
York investigators will work alongside Thunder Bay officers in the ongoing investigations into the Begg and Keeash cases.
Keeash was found dead in a strip of marshland with her pants and underwear pulled down. Begg was pulled from the McIntyre River.
Keeash’s mother, Pearl Slipperjack, told APTN no one informed her that York police was being called in.
However, Slipperjack is happy.
“I’m happy. I’m really happy. I really want to know what happened to my baby,” she said, adding she is convinced someone harmed her daughter and has lost faith in Thunder Bay police.
Slipperjack said she doesn’t believe Thunder Bay police took the investigation into her daughter’s death serious.
In fact, Slipperjack learned from APTN earlier in June that her daughter was found partially nude.
Slipperjack said she asked police after they found her daughter if there were any signs of potential sexual assault and a detective said there was none.
“The police lied to me,” she said. “They should have told me how she was found.”
Rainy River First Nation Chief Jim Leonard said he was “disheartened” York police’s mandate does not include the Stacy DeBungee case. DeBungee, 41, was pulled from the McIntyre River last October. Thunder Bay police immediately ruled out foul play despite evidence DeBungee’s debit card was used after his death.
“All we are asking for is for some questions to be answered,” he said. “We don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”
Thunder Bay police asked the OPP to review their handling of the DeBungee case. That review is complete but the city police has still not informed the DeBungee family about the results.
“It leaves us in a vacuum,” said Leonard. “I am at a loss with the process.”
-More to come