Two First Nations leaders and the president of the Thunder Bay Friendship Centre are demanding that the Thunder Bay Police Service be dismantled and are calling on the Ontario government to ensure that effective police services are delivered in its absence.
In a joint statement issued Wednesday by Reg Niganobe, the grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, Anna Betty Achneepineskum, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Tamara Spence, president of Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, the three said, “It is now painfully clear that Indigenous people have no trust in the Thunder Bay Police Service or the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.
“The repeated failures of the Thunder Bay Police Service require a fundamental re-examination of whether it should continue to exist.”
At a news conference in Toronto Wednesday, Niganobe pointed to what he called the “repeated failures” of the force, saying it should no longer be permitted to carry out major crime investigations.
Earlier this month, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told the legislature she sent a letter to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission asking it to “thoroughly investigate” the Thunder Bay police and its board.
In a December 2018 review, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director found that systemic racism exists at an institutional level at the Thunder Bay Police Service, which affected the investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people.
The watchdog said the “inadequacy” of the police force’s sudden death investigations was “so problematic” that at least nine cases needed to be re-investigated.
“Systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service and needs to be ripped out at its roots,” said the statement. “We demand that the Solicitor General of Ontario proceed with dismantling the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“The Ontario Government needs to prioritize listening to the Indigenous peoples who live, work, and visit Thunder Bay.”
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Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum says two of the nine reopened cases involved her family members and she alleged the force’s re-investigations were flawed.
“As an immediate measure, the Thunder Bay Police Service should no longer be permitted to do major crime investigations. The Thunder Bay Police Service leaves a trail of inadequate investigations, a negligently managed records system, and a lack of substantive oversight.
“Trust is broken, and every day Thunder Bay Police Service remains in control of major crime investigations is another day Indigenous people are at risk in the city.
In Ontario’s legislature Wednesday, NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa asked the government if it planned to immediately intervene in the situation.
“Systemic racism within the Thunder bay police is preventing justice for Indigenous people and it is intolerable,” Mamakwa asked Premier Doug Ford.
“Will this government immediately call for OPP oversight of the Thunder Bay Police?”
Sylvia Jones, Ontario’s solicitor general answered on behalf of the government. She told the legislature that the government is going to wait for the results of several ongoing investigations before making a decision.
“These serious allegations must be and are being investigated by independents. Through the civilian police commission, through the OPP,” she said.
“Those investigations are ongoing and we should not and cannot politically interfere in those independent reviews as they take place.”
According to Kristen Oliver, chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, a meeting will be held on April 2 to discuss the concerns.
“Our work to transform the Thunder Bay Police Service and address the deep systemic issues is ongoing. I, as Board Chair, understand more work needs to be done to rebuild our relationships with Northwestern Ontario Indigenous leaders and people,” she said in a statement.
“Without trust in law enforcement from our community, the system doesn’t work.”
In an email to APTN News, the Thunder Bay Police Service said that “Chief (Sylvie) Hauth will be reviewing the comments made from this morning’s news conference and will be discussing them further with the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in the very near future.”
With files from the Canadian Press