On Wednesday the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) released its long-anticipated report on the relationship between the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and Indigenous people.
The two-year investigation, led by Independent Police Review Director Gerry McNeilly, found “significant deficiencies” due in part to racism in the police force.
Among the report’s recommendations is that police reinvestigate nine sudden death cases involving Indigenous people.
Those individuals are not formally named in the OIRPD report, but APTN News matched the dates of the cases in the report with known names in Thunder Bay.
Jethro Anderson, a 15-year-old from Kasabonika Lake First Nation, disappeared in Thunder Bay on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2000. His body was found in the Kaministiquia River two weeks later, on Nov. 11.
Police determined the death was not suspicious.
The 2016 inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students found the cause of Anderson’s death to be “undetermined”.
“It’s still a mystery,” Anderson’s aunt Dora Morris told APTN News of her nephew’s death. “We don’t know what happened to him. I guess he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Curran Strang, an 18-year-old student from Pikangikum First Nation, went missing in 2005. His body was found in Thunder Bay’s McIntyre River on Sept. 26 of that year.
The inquest determined Strang drowned “with ethanol intoxication”. His death was determined an accident.
Strang was pulled from the river with his pants undone and lowered, the sweatshirt he was last seen wearing was also missing.
The body of 17-year-old Kyle Morrisseau of Keewaywin First Nation was found in the McIntyre River on Nov. 10, 2009. He had been missing for two weeks.
“It wasn’t like him to not call home. He called almost every day,” Christie Kakegumic, Morrisseau’s sister, told APTN.
A coroner determined Morrisseau too had drowned “with acute ethanol intoxication.”
The cause of Morriseau’s drowning was deemed an “accident” by the inquest.
Jordan Wabasse was found dead in May 2011. File photo.
Jordan Wabasse, a 15-year-old from Webequie First Nation, was pulled from the Kaministiquia River on May 10, 2011.
Two days after police ruled Wabasse’s death not suspicious they received a tip that the youth may have been murdered.
The inquest determined Wabasse had drowned but found the cause of his drowning to be “undetermined”.
Christina Gliddy, a 28-year-old mother from Wunnumin Lake First Nation, was found unconscious near a bridge over the McIntyre River.
She died later that morning, on March 29, 2016. The coroner and police said Gliddy died of exposure.
Gliddy’s mother and sister both told APTN last year they doesn’t believe Christina’s case was properly investigated by police.
Thunder Bay police were called to a wooded area, near a bike path just off the Trans Canada on April 30, 2016.
The officer who took charge of the scene noted that Spence was on her back with her legs bent to the left. He also noted the following:
The officer who took charge of the scene reported that death was obvious, and that the deceased was lying on her back with her legs bent to the left.
He also observed that: Her elbows were bent with her hands palm up next to her head, her left hand was clutching a clump of grass, Her right hand was holding a small branch, Her pants were pulled down below her buttocks, but her underwear was in place. Two hospital bands were located on her right wrist (these were from the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre) and there were cigarette burns on both palms.
The coroner concluded:
“The autopsy report listed significant findings as ethanol intoxication – post-mortem toxicology detected a non-fatal level of ethanol in the post-mortem blood. It can increase the risk of hypothermia. Ketoacidosis – this may occur in diabetics and individuals who are dependent on ethanol consumption.”
The Thunder Bay police then released this news release.
“A post mortem was conducted in Toronto yesterday on the deceased female whose body was discovered on April 30, 2016 in a wooded area behind Brant Street. Based on the evidence examined to date, her death does not appear to be criminal in nature. The woman had been deceased for a few days prior to the discovery of her.”
According to Gerry McNeilly, police didn’t do the work properly.
“Ms. E.F.’s (Spence) death may or may not have been related to intoxication (blood alcohol level of 244 mg/100 mL) leading to hypothermia. Ms. E.F.’s recent injuries may or may not have been attributable, in whole or in part, to stumbling or crawling. However, the investigation fell significantly short of what was required to enable those conclusions to be drawn.”
The body of 20-year-old Arron Loon was found in the snow near a pathway in Thunder Bay on March 25, 2015. Thunder Bay Fire Rescue arrived first on the scene and told a police officer who later arrived that it appeared Loon may have been in a fight. There were abrasions and blood on parts of his body, though this was not mentioned in any police report.
Loon’s cause of death was listed as hypothermia in the autopsy report, and Loon was said to have had an “elevated blood ethanol concentration.”
“This is but one of a number of cases in which an Indigenous person was presumed by TBPS to have died suddenly as a result of hypothermia or drowning,” the OIPRD report reads. “In a number of these cases, police failed to recognize that findings of hypothermia or drowning did not relieve them of their obligation to determine the circumstances under which these individuals froze to death or drowned, including the role, if any, played by others in contributing to their deaths.”
The report found the investigation into Loon’s death was “deficient in important areas,” which “prevents a proper determination as to whether it was or was not attributable to accident and unrelated to foul play.
“A reinvestigation is required.”
Stacy DeBungee died in October 2015. File photo.
The death of 41-year-old Rainy River First Nation man Stacy DeBungee in 2015 prompted the OIPRD investigation.
On Oct. 19 DeBungee’s body was pulled from the McIntyre River. Thunder Bay police immediately ruled his death accidental and caused by alcohol before the completion of a post mortem.
An independent investigation into DeBungee’s death determined that police failed to properly investigate and follow leads, including one that claimed DeBungee’s debit card was used after his death.
“What the DeBungee family has been put through by the TBPS is unforgiveable,” said Chief Robin McGinnis, Rainy River First Nations where DeBungee was from. “The findings by the Director that there is overwhelming evidence of racism at the Thunder Bay Police Service vindicates this long battle.”
McNeilly is also calling for the Thunder Bay police service to put in place what he’s calling a multi-disciplinary team together to decide whether other cases should be reopened.