The family said that the Chief of Police in Thunder Bay, Ontario had no say in the reinvestigation of the sudden death
The long-awaited reinvestigation report on the sudden deaths of 9 aboriginals in Thunder Bay, Ontario is expected to be released sometime this summer, but the families of the deceased and their representatives have expressed skepticism.
According to Anna Betty Ahneepineskum, former deputy chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the focus of concern is the lack of transparency in the reinvestigation and the uncertain role of Thunder Bay Police Chief Sylvie Hauth in drafting and reviewing the final report. The aunts of the two persons who were reinvestigating the cause of death.
“When we talk about trust, there must be transparency. Our family members who participated in the reinvestigation did not witness this,” Ahneepineskum said at a press conference in a northern Ontario city on Tuesday.
“We have always hoped that there will be some answers to provide a sense of closure to the family. At present, we have not seen this.”
The re-investigation was based on the recommendations of the Broken Trust report and was initiated by an independent police monitoring agency in 2018, which found evidence of systemic racism at the Thunder Bay Police Department.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) reviewed 37 sudden death investigations in the force over the past 20 years and concluded that 9 of them were “serious” and must be reinvestigated.
Four of them-Jethro Anderson of Kasabonika Lake, Curran Strang of Pikangikum, Kyle Morrisseau of Keewaywin and Jordan Wabasse of Webequie-have been investigated in 2016.
For these four families, this latest investigation is their third investigation into the death of their loved ones.
At the press conference, Beulah Wabasse held a feather in his hand and wore an orange “Every Child Is Important” T-shirt, and talked about the pain that her family still feels because of the loss of grandson Jordan.
“I still want to know some answers. My daughter, my family, my Webequie community, we are all still waiting,” she said.
Re-investigation should provide these answers.
But the family said they have been kept in the dark. They said that, broadly speaking, even though investigators talked with them and seemed interested in every case, they have not heard from them since then, and their own questions have not been answered— How will their comments be used in the final report? How was the report prepared? When will it be released and what content will it contain?
A six-member investigative team composed of officers from the Ontario Police Department (OPP) and Nishnawbe Aski Police Department is supported by a committee of at least four experts, and an executive governance committee composed of six members including Police Chief Hauth Supervision.
The task of the Executive Committee is to “review, approve and publicly release… as the case may be” the final report.
In multiple letters obtained by CBC News, family members and legal representatives asked whether Hauth had evaded the procedure.
“The Chief of the Thunder Bay Police Department is unacceptable. The service directly involves complete incompetence. [and] In demeaning the lives of indigenous peoples, it will play a controlling role in the release of this report,” said lawyer Julian Falcona.
Caitlyn Kasper of the Indigenous Legal Services Department, representing the three families involved in the case, also expressed “lost confidence in the management of the Project Broken Trust and is very concerned about the legality of any final reports issued by the project”.
Hauth rejected the interview request and referred the question to the province’s chief coroner’s office.
When asked whether Hauth had avoided, a spokesperson for the coroner wrote, “Any real or perceived conflict of interest will be resolved.”
The statement also stated that “the opinions of the victims’ families are priceless and a high priority,” and the victim’s liaison officer “frequently” communicates with the families.
The OIPRD report also recommends re-investigating the cause of Stacy DeBungee’s death in 2015, and found a “major” defect equivalent to negligence, and led to ongoing criminal investigations of the three officials involved.
CBC News learned on Tuesday that the case has been transferred to OPP and will not be included in Broken Trust’s final report.
Brad DeBungee has been calling for a reinvestigation of the cause of his brother’s death for nearly six years. He said it was frustrating and he did not know whether the Broken Trust team was investigating the matter.
“It’s hard to keep pleading. When you have to plead and plead and you don’t get the answer, what will they do and how will they handle things correctly,” De Bunge said.
“How can you trust such a system?”
CBC has asked the Attorney General’s Department to provide more information about the reasons for the decision, and the Department instructed OPP to reinvestigate the case.