An almost 200-page report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OPIRD), titled Broken trust, Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police, was released this month. In the report, independent reviewer Gerry McNeilly reviewed 37 police investigations, most of which were Indigenous victims, undertaken by the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS). In the report, McNeilly called the, “Investigations into a number of sudden deaths in the city ‘inadequate’ and ‘so problematic that at least nine of these cases should be reinvestigated’.”
The review begun after McNeilly received complaints surround the 2015 death investigation of a First Nations man, Stacey DeBungee, who was found in Thunder Bay’s McIntyre River. McNeilly said, “Indigenous leaders and community members told me that TBPS investigations of Indigenous deaths and other interactions with police devalued Indigenous lives, reflected differential treatment and were based on racist attitudes and stereotypical preconceptions about Indigenous people.” McNeilly described the strained relationship between the TBPS and Indigenous peoples as “nothing short of a crisis” that has historical roots.
The report has 44 recommendations which include:
- Reinvestigation of nine sudden death investigations involving Indigenous victims
- Eliminating systemic racism in the TBPS
- “TBPS leadership should publicly and formally acknowledge that racism exists at all levels within the police service and that it will not tolerate racist views or actions. TBPS leadership should engage with Indigenous communities on the forum for and content of these acknowledgements. This would be an important step in TBS advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.”
For Indigenous people, the findings in the OPIRD report reaffirm what Indigenous people have been saying about the TBPS for years. Brad DeBungee, Stacey DeBungee’s brother, said he, “Could feel in my heart from the first day I dealt with a police officer that he treated me and my family differently because we are Indigenous. Now the proof is out, and they must answer for this.” AFN National Chief said, “Obviously, current approaches to investigating the deaths and disappearances of First Nations fail all of us, erode trust and exacerbate already strained relationships.”