The results of a two-year investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) into dozens of investigations conducted by the Thunder Bay police service is set to be released Dec. 12.
The OIPRD launched a systemic review, the first of its kind in the province of Ontario, that examined Thunder Bay police service’s policies, practices and attitudes on missing persons and death investigations involving Indigenous peoples.
According to a statement released Wednesday, the OIPRD reviewed more than three dozen investigations by the Thunder Bay police.
“The systemic review report is a culmination of an extensive review and analysis of 37 TBPS investigations, dozens of interviews with former and current TBPS members, First Nations Police Services, Ontario’s Chief Coroner and Chief Forensic Pathologist, and more than 80 meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community and service organizations, individuals and Indigenous leaders,” the release from the OIPRD said.
“The majority of the investigations were sudden deaths, including those deemed homicides, suicides and accidental.”
First Nations leaders welcomed the review when it was announced in 2016.
“There’s a lot of things that are coming to the surface where there has been situations where our people have been mistreated either verbally or physically,” said Anna Betty Achneepineskum, former deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in 2016.
“A lot of things those allegations were proven to be true. It’s very important that we start addressing this and working together and that our people, our indigenous citizens have a voice at the table.”
Wound from the student inquest that examined the deaths of seven First Nation students in the city were still fresh.
Along with strong concerns over how police handled some of those missing person reports and death investigations.
Officials with Nishnawbe Aski Nation declined to comment until the report is released.
About six months into the director’s investigation, Gerry McNeilly said he was troubled by what he was seeing and hearing in the city.
“It’s a bit of a crisis that’s why I have started and why I’m carrying out this systemic review,” he said at the time. “We need to bring some reconciliation, we need to bring some changes, we need to bring a better relationship between the police and the indigenous community and how they interact.”
The Thunder Bay police say its open to any recommendations from the report.
Officials say the force is already addressing some of the issues that are expected to come up.
“I can truly tell you though that we haven’t stood idle for the last year and a half so it’s not like we’re sitting, waiting to say okay, please tell us where we’re deficient, said Police Chief Sylvie Hauth the day she was sworn in. “I’ve really made an effort in the last year and a half to really focus on the areas that were highlighted or the areas that were problematic.”
In the winter of 2017, the OIPRD found two Thunder Bay investigators guilty of discredible conduct for how they handed the Stacey Debungee death investigation.
The body of the man from the Rainy River First Nation was found in the McIntyre River in 2015.
His family filed a complaint to the OIPRD which prompted the review.