Ontario police open new investigations into historical Thunder Bay deaths

The OPP has reopened investigations into the sudden deaths of 13 Indigenous people in Thunder Bay between 2006 and 2019.


Ontario Provincial Police/ APTN archives

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has reopened investigations into the sudden deaths of 13 Indigenous people in Thunder Bay between 2006 and 2019.

The investigations come more than a year after a taskforce conducted a deep review of sudden deaths in Thunder Bay dating back more than two decades calling for the deaths to be reinvestigated, according to a confidential report first obtained by APTN News.

None of the deaths were initially considered suspicious by Thunder Bay police.

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Following the work of the taskforce, the ministry of the attorney general asked that the OPP reopen the cases.

“Our intention is to take a victim-centred, trauma- and culturally informed approach to thoroughly investigate the circumstances leading to these 13 tragic deaths in Thunder Bay,” said Bill Dickson, a spokesperson for the OPP on Tuesday.

Ronald Moskotaywenene is the son of one man who went missing. His father, Robert Moskotaywenene was later found in the Kaministiquia River on the afternoon of Sept. 9, 2015.

A post-mortem found that the death was consistent with accidental drowning. Something his family never believed.

Ronald told APTN on Monday that the police had been in touch with him about the investigation.

“OPP detectives came knocking [three weeks ago]. They just introduced themselves, explained why they are investigating. They can’t say much, but each month they will update. Might take a year or two,” said Ronald.

“They said the OPP themselves make mistakes but the mistakes Thunder Bay police did would never happen to them.”

Thunder bay sudden deaths
Ronald Moskotaywenene says his father, Robert, was loved by all that knew him. He drowned in a Thunder Bay river in 2015. Cullen Crozier/APTN

After police found Robert’s body no tarp was used to preserve any physical evidence, and a witness who found his body was never interviewed.

There was also no search for evidence.

No canvas.

No video seized.

No reported consultation with the criminal investigations unit.

And the scene was released the same day.

The OPP said Tuesday that if “during the course of the investigations, criminal charges are warranted, criminal charges will be laid. We believe victims’ families, friends, communities and the public deserve to know what happened,” in a statement emailed to APTN.

They have also said as they are actively investigating, they will not provide further details.

In the years since Robert’s death, there has been much speculation as to what really happened to him.

In 2019, a family member came forward to police with information that identified an Indigenous man as a suspect who may have pushed Robert into the river killing him.

The suspect had an extensive history of violence, including a murder charge in relation to an attack on an Indigenous man in Thunder Bay.

The direct source of that information refused to speak to police and the suspect in question was murdered in 2020.

Members of the public with information can contact the OPP non-emergency number at 1-888-310-1122. If you wish to remain anonymous, contact Thunder Bay District Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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