Mothers and Families Deserve Answers – Sarah Campbell

Bill Mauro Kenora Queen's Park - NAN Sarah Campbell

Northern Jury Issues at Queens Park

QUEENS PARK – POLITICS – Kenora MPP Sarah Campbell, the NDP Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, is demanding that Premier Wynne take immediate action to ensure a public inquest takes place now into the deaths of seven Anishinabek students in Thunder Bay.

“In the recent throne speech, this government reaffirmed its commitment to Ontario’s First Nations people, and yet last week we learned that a long-promised public inquest into the tragic deaths of seven First Nations youth in Thunder Bay won’t be proceeding now, any time soon, or maybe ever,” stated Campbell. “The chief coroner, an officer of this House, made the decision to not proceed saying that ongoing issues with the under-representation of First Nations on juries in Thunder Bay is an issue, and also that the complexity of the issue is a contributing factor as to why there will not be an inquest”.

“Seven youths who have had to leave their home communities in order to get a high school education have wound up dead. Families and northerners have been waiting for over 10 years for answers and they’re still waiting,” Campbell said.

“Will this government take immediate steps to rectify the underrepresentation of First Nations on juries so we can finally go forward with this inquest?”

Campbell named the seven students and said their families have waited long enough for answers and deserve immediate action from the Premier. “Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Paul Panacheese, 17, Robyn Harper, 18, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morriseau, 17, Jordon Wabasse, 15. Their mothers and families deserve answers. You have to wonder if it was seven kids somewhere in southwestern Ontario who died tragically, would there be any hesitation to overcome the roadblocks and call an inquest to get to the bottom of it?,” Campbell said.

“Will this government finally take action to address the systemic issues with jury selection the coroner cited as preventing a public inquest from going forward, and call an inquest into the deaths of these youth right away?”

Dissatisfied with the government’s answers, Campbell intends to debate the issue further.

Here is the Full Exchange in Queens Park

Ms. Sarah Campbell: To the Premier: In the recent throne speech, this government reaffirmed its commitment to Ontario’s First Nations people, and yet last week we learned that a long-promised public inquest into the tragic deaths of seven First Nations youth in Thunder Bay won’t be proceeding now, any time soon, or maybe ever. The chief coroner, an officer of this House, made the decision not to proceed, saying that ongoing issues with the under-representation of First Nations on juries in Thunder Bay is an issue, and also that the complexity of the issue is a contributing factor as to why there will not be an inquest. Seven youths who had to leave their home communities in order to get a high school education have wound up dead. Families and northerners have been waiting for over 10 years for answers, and they’re still waiting.

Will this government take immediate steps to rectify the under-representation of First Nations on juries so we can finally go forward with this inquest?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

Hon. David Zimmer: Thank you for that question and for raising this very important issue. I can tell the member opposite that about this time last year I was in Thunder Bay and I met with the parents of the students who had been killed. They had been brought into one of the local high schools and they were doing some preparation work, getting ready for the inquest which was to start at about this time.

Along with that we have the Iacobucci report, which made certain recommendations about the selection of jurors on criminal panels. The coroner has also suggested that those same recommendations ought to be implemented into coroner’s juries so that there is sufficient representation of First Nation members on a coroner’s jury. Accordingly, he has adjourned the inquest so that he can make arrangements to perhaps work with some of the recommendations in the Iacobucci report to ensure that First Nations participate not only in criminal juries and civil juries, but in coroner’s juries.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Jethro Anderson, 15; Curran Strang, 18; Paul Panacheese, 17; Robyn Harper, 18; Reggie Bushie, 15; Kyle Morriseau, 17; and Jordan Wabasse, 15—their mothers and families deserve answers.

You have to wonder, if it was seven kids somewhere in southwestern Ontario who died tragically, would there be any hesitation to overcome the roadblocks and call an inquest to get to the bottom of it?

Will this government finally take action to address the systemic issues with jury selection the coroner cited as preventing a public inquest from going forward, and call an inquest into the deaths of these youth right away?

Hon. David Zimmer: Minister of Children and Youth Services.

Hon. Tracy MacCharles: Thanks to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for providing clarity in the first answer.

Ontario is very committed to building strong relationships with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban aboriginal partners. Working together, Speaker, we can improve opportunities and outcomes for aboriginal youth and their families. We are currently developing an Aboriginal Children and Youth Strategy to transform how services are designed and delivered to improve outcomes for aboriginal children and youth. This outcome is under way. It’s very community-driven, integrating culturally appropriate supports for children so that services can better meet their needs.As the new Minister of Children and Youth Services, I look forward very much to spearheading this in co-operation with my colleagues and my critic for children and youth services.
Ontario Politics