Onigaming First Nation chief says paramedics refused to come into community while man overdosed

The Ontario government and Kenora district have launched an investigation into the incident.

Onigaming First Nation

A citizen of Onigaming First Nation took this photo of an ambulance sitting at the edge of the reserve on Monday. Photo courtesy: Jeffrey Copenace.


Jeffrey Copenace, chief of Onigaming First Nation in northern Ontario, is calling out the Kenora Central Ambulance Service after he says two paramedics sat at the border of the community and refused to help a man who was overdosing until police arrived.

“Today a young First Nations man died in Onigaming,” Copenace wrote on Twitter. “911 was called. The ambulance parked at the edge of our reserve + wouldn’t come help. As his family provided chest compressions, the paramedics let this young man die. This is racism.”

In a separate tweet Copenace wrote, “We could see the ambulance from our band office refusing to come help. Everyone in the community could see them sitting there as this young man passed away.”

According to Copenace, at around 11:30 a.m. ET, “a customer care worker called me and said a young man had overdosed and they called paramedics but they were sitting at the edge of the reserve border for 20 minutes and wouldn’t come in,” Copenace told APTN News.

“The attendant said he’d been attacked there before, ‘I’m not going in there now,’” Copenace said about the conversation with one of the paramedics.

He said people in the community were performing CPR on the man while paramedics waited.

“You guys are racist,” he said he told them.


Copenace said the man who overdosed was around 30 years old. He didn’t release the man’s name.

Copenace tagged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hadju in his tweet.

He said he received a call from Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hadju wrote on Twitter, “Not being able to access urgent care is unacceptable. We agreed fed, prov & community leaders must work together to understand how this happened and make sure all people in Onigaming can get the care they need when they need it.”

Ontario’s health ministry said it’s aware of the incident and will investigate.

But NDP MPP Sol Mamakw who represents the riding said, “Racism and indifference gets played out…on the lives of First Nations people every day,” he said on Facebook. “What happened in Onigaming yesterday to this young man is another needless death.”

Kenora district launching investigation

Copenace said he also received a message from Henry Wall, chief administration officer of the Kenora District Service Board that handles paramedic services in northwestern Ontario.

“We are doing a full review and investigation of what happened today and why our paramedics took the actions that they did,” said Wall.

Wall told the chief the province is also investigating the incident and he will travel to the community on Monday.

Copenace told APTN this isn’t the first time his community has had problems with the paramedic service.

He said there are times when citizens in his community call for help, and paramedics come with a different message.

“Most of the time the paramedics try to talk them out of going for help at the hospital,” he said. “I’ve been witnessing a lot of this racism from paramedics. It’s almost like they view us as not human. If this was a white man they wouldn’t have waited at the edge of the community.”

Copenace said in May paramedics tried to talk a woman from the community from going to the hospital. They took her after he intervened and insisted they take her.

“I can’t believe I’m witnessing this in Canada,” he said.

According to the chief, grief counsellors have been dispatched to the Ojibway community about 175 km east of the Manitoba-Ontario border along the Trans Canada Highway.

APTN called Treaty 3 police who attended the scene but did not hear back.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.