New statistics show that Thunder Bay had the highest rate of hate crimes in Canada, driven largely by acts targeting Indigenous people.
In 2015, there were 27 police-reported hate crimes in the Thunder Bay Census Metropolitan Area — for a rate of 22 per 100,000 people — according to data released by Statistics Canada on Tuesday. Thunder Bay made up more than a quarter of the anti-Indigenous hate crimes country-wide, according to Stats Can, which pointed to 10 specific cases in the northern Ontario city targeting Indigenous people.
Those deaths have led to the Indigenous population becoming increasingly distrustful of the city’s police force.
The next highest rate was in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, with roughly 9 incidents per 100,000 people, followed by Peterborough and Hamilton with 7 each.
The numbers — which are out-of-date by a year, thanks to lags in reporting from police — come just as Thunder Bay reels from a series of high profile deaths within the Indigenous population.
Statistics Canada attributed to the high crime rate in Thunder Bay to “the introduction of a hate crime awareness campaign in 2012.”
Late last month, First Nations leaders in the city called on the RCMP to step in to investigate the recent deaths of teenagers Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg, as well as 41-year-old Stacy DeBungee. Keeash was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway last month. Begg was found dead in the McIntyre River on May 18 while DeBungee’s body was discovered in the river in 2015.
Those deaths have led to the Indigenous population becoming increasingly distrustful of the city’s police force, which is currently under review for allegations of systemic racism and how it’s handled investigations into the deaths of Indigenous youth. While police have insisted that there’s been no foul play — and rejected calls for the RCMP to step in — residents fear Indigenous people are being targeted and say investigations have not been thorough enough.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the statistics “disturbing” and said they should be taken “seriously.”
Indigenous residents say objects are routinely thrown at them from passing cars.
But when pressed by VICE News on why the RCMP couldn’t intervene in the recent investigations, Goodale deferred to the province of Ontario. “The Government of Canada cannot simply arbitrarily usurp the function of a local municipality or of a province,” he said. He went on to say that he recognized concerns, but offered little more detail on what Ottawa could do.
“When there are concerns of that nature and magnitude that are expressed, I think we all within our respective authorities need to treat that seriously because this kind of angst diminishes the strength of the country,” he said.
The latest numbers don’t come as a surprise for Indigenous people, who say they’ve come to expect acts of racially-motivated violence in Thunder Bay, where they make up about 10 percent of the population, according to 2011 census data.
Indigenous residents say objects are routinely thrown at them from passing cars, with one man being hospitalized after someone threw a brick at his head in 2014.
Last year, a First Nations woman who was found naked on a downtown street, said a man had tried to drown her in the lake — no charges were laid because she couldn’t identify her attacker.
Since 2000, seven Indigenous people have been found dead in Thunder Bay’s rivers .
And in January, Barbara Kentner suffered life-threatening injuries when someone threw a trailer hitch at her from a car, striking her in the abdomen. Her sister, who was walking beside her at the time, told the Toronto Star she heard someone yell: “I [expletive] got one of them.” Eighteen-year-old Brayden Bushby, who is white, has been charged with the assault.
More recently, the bodies discovered in waterways have heightened concerns. Since 2000, seven Indigenous people have been found dead in Thunder Bay’s rivers including five students who were going to school away from their home communities. An inquest into the student deaths found that in four cases, the causes of death were “undetermined.”
Eyewitnesses have contradicted the police’s assertion that there was no foul play in Keeash’s death. Speaking with an APTN reporter last week, a group of church children said they first found her with her pants around her ankles and her underwear below her buttocks.
Acting chief Sylvie Hauth said police did not believe calling in the RCMP was a “practical or necessary action to take” and that she didn’t see the current situation as a “crisis.”
Thunder Bay Police did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.