Northern Ontario chiefs call on RCMP to investigate Thunder Bay deaths

APTN National News
Chiefs from northern Ontario say they have no faith in the Thunder Bay police, as well as the OPP, and are calling on the RCMP to investigate a number of deaths in Thunder Bay.

“The recent losses of Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg have once again confirmed the inability of the Thunder Bay Police Service to conduct competent and credible investigations into the epidemic of deaths of NAN and Treaty No. 3 community members in Thunder Bay’s rivers. This crisis of confidence in policing has led to the ongoing investigation into systemic racism in the force,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler in a statement.

NAN held a media conference in Toronto Wednesday and said the recent deaths of Keeash, 17, and Begg, 14, both suspected of drowning, followed another similar death of Stacy DeBungee, from Rainy River First Nation, who was found in the river on Oct. 19, 2015. His death triggered a systemic review of racism in the TBPS by the Office of the Independent Review Director (OIPRD).

Chiefs said the OPP refused to do an independent investigation into DeBungee’s death.

“In the face of the OPP’s refusal last fall to support our communities with an independent investigation into the Stacy DeBungee death, the logical next step is to bring in the RCMP with respect to the three latest river deaths including the DeBungee case. With all that has transpired to date, it is painfully obvious that the Thunder Bay Police cannot credibly investigate the river deaths,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, of Grand Council Treaty 3.

The chiefs have also called on the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to investigate the “administrative failures” of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.

“We are applying for the immediate appointment of an administrator to oversee the police board and for a broader review of the board’s conduct and utter lack of leadership. As far back as last fall when the systemic racism review was announced, Rainy River First Nations along with the DeBungee family, went on record as formally inviting collaboration with board members in moving forward with the systemic review,” said Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard. “As chief of my community, I was shocked to receive a blanket refusal (in writing) by the board chair to even meet with my council and the family during the currency of the OIPRD review. This kind of bunker mentality is embarrassing for what is supposed to be the civilian oversight body of the police service.”

Chiefs said OCPC has the power to impose sanctions as severe as disbanding a police service, a police services board, or both. The OCPC also has the power to appoint an administrator to oversee the operations of the board.

The body of Keeash, from North Caribou Lake First Nation, was found in the Neebing-McIntyre floodway on May 7. Less than two weeks later the body of Begg, of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, was also found in the river.

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