Crime

Thunder Bay police refuse to let RCMP take over investigations into deaths of Indigenous people

The Thunder Bay police have rejected a demand made by First Nations leaders to let the RCMP take over investigations into the deaths of three Indigenous people in the city’s waterways.

“At this time, we do not believe that this is a practical or necessary action to take,” said acting police chief Sylvie Hauth, adding that two death investigations are already part of an ongoing review of the force by Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

Police are, however, now investigating the possibility that Indigenous people are being targeted in the city, APTN reported.

“I don’t see the situation as a crisis,” said Hauth. “I see it as a current situation we can work through and something that involves all the community members. We are part of the community as a police service.”

Hauth, who is filling in for chief J.P. Levesque — he is currently on medical leave and facing charges of obstruction of justice and breach of trust for allegedly disclosing confidential information about the city’s mayor — is the only one with the power to call in the RCMP.

“I don’t see the situation as a crisis.”

Last week, First Nations leaders demanded that Canada’s federal police body step in and take over for the Thunder Bay police, who they believed have botched recent investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people.

Seventeen-year-old Tammy Keeash’s body was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on May 7; 14-year-old Josiah Begg was found dead in the McIntyre River on May 18; and Stacy DeBungee’s body was found in the McIntyre River on Oct. 19, 2015.

Their deaths bring the total number of Indigenous people whose bodies have ended up in waterways since 2000 to seven. An inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous youths in the city, five of whom were found in the water, found that in four cases, the causes of death were “undetermined.”

After initially declining in the fall of 2016 to review the investigation into DeBungee’s death — because it was the subject of a complaint to a police oversight body — the OPP recently completed its review, Hauthe confirmed. The Thunder Bay police are now reviewing that report, with no plans to release it publicly.

Police have been accused of mishandling the DeBungee case by declaring the death accidental before an autopsy was completed.

David Perry, a private investigator subsequently hired by the family, discovered that Debungee’s debit card had been used after his death and that his ID cards were found along with those of another person, who hasn’t been identified. He’d also been in contact with four people prior to his death, who had never been interviewed by police, Perry told APTN.

Police say evidence in Keeash’s death was consistent with drowning and that several people have been interviewed. A post mortem was done on Begg’s body but police have released no details about what they believe led to his death.

Both files remain open and are being actively investigated, said police.

“As of today’s date, there is no evidence to link another person or group as being responsible for the deaths of either Tammy Keeash or Josiah Begg,” said Lewis. “As stated, the Thunder Bay Police welcomes any and all information from any source that could assist investigators in these cases.”

Cover: Tammy Keeash. Photo via Thunder Bay Police.

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