Thunder Bay Bear Clan Patrol takes to the water to try and make life safer

(Bear Clan out on a river in Thunder Bay. Photos courtesy the Bear Clan.)

Volunteers with Bear Clan Patrol in Thunder Bay plan to start doing something this weekend police and politicians have so far been unable to do – patrol the waterways that have claimed more than 12 Indigenous lives since 2000.

“We got three so far,” spokesman Travis Hay said of brightly coloured kayaks they want to launch Saturday in the McIntyre River that runs through the northwestern Ontario city.

“We’ll be doing weekend river patrols through the summer along with our regular foot patrols.”

Some victims drowned accidentally in the river and McIntyre-Nebing Floodway but others died under suspicious circumstances leading to allegations of racism against the police service for shoddy investigative work.

Eventually, there was a coroner’s inquest and water safety audit.

The victims were either students from remote communities or adults in the city for various reasons including medical appointments.

Hay says the city is still debating recommendations from the audit but Bear Clan isn’t waiting to make the rivers safer.

“We went out earlier this week on a test run…,” he said, “to see how the waters were.”

The Thunder Bay chapter is modelled on the Bear Clan Patrol that was founded in Winnipeg, Man., and now supervised by James Favel.

Favel loves how the group is thinking “outside the box” despite the many challenges.

“When they started up I did not envy their position,” he said. “They were up against (allegations) of corruption of the police and mayor and the hatred there, the racism.”

But now Favel says the Bear Clan is filling gaps in services – especially evenings and weekends – and repairing relationships from the ground up. There are 28 chapters now in 14 cities in six provinces from Montreal to Vancouver, he added.

Hay says Thunder Bay bought kayaks and life jackets with donations. He says volunteers are needed and welcome.

Thunder Bay police are conducting their own patrols of the waterways in the city.

A recently released report by police shows there have been more than a thousand interactions between officers and people by the river.

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