‘Erroneous’ Press Release the tip of the iceberg?

expect change

expect change

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – First Nations have filed a human rights complaint against the City of Thunder Bay Police Service and the Police Services Board. The complaint is filed as a result of a ‘press release’ that was sent out on September 1 2012 that said, “The fresh breath killer was captured in Kenora ‘The Scpoe’”.

That release was issued, and then a few minutes later it was retracted.

Thunder Bay Police stated:

“Erroneous Media Release “On Saturday September 1, 2012, an erroneous media release was sent out regarding the arrest in the Adam YELLOWHEAD homicide investigation by the lead investigator. Within four minutes of this error, a retraction was distributed via email to media outlets. “The circumstances surrounding this first media release are now the subject of an internal investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service. “Since the investigation into Mr. YELLOWHEAD’s death has lead to charges against a 33 year old accused, information surrounding the homicide is now before the courts. We are therefore limited in what can be discussed in order to ensure the integrity of the investigation”.

Police issued this media release on the homicide:

Homicide Suspect Arrested

A 33 year old Thunder Bay man has been arrested in connection with the death of 65 year old Adam YELLOWHEAD.

The 33 year old accused was put out for arrest last night following an extensive investigation by the Thunder Bay Police Service.  The male was arrested without incident at approximately 11:30 p.m. in downtown Kenora by the Ontario Provincial Police.  Officers from the T.B.P.S. are transporting the accused back to Thunder Bay today.

The accused is known to police and will be charged with 2nd Degree Murder.  He will appear in court tomorrow.  The name of the accused will be released after his first appearance.

In the complaint, referring to the original press release, the First Nations state, “The press release reinforces harmful and demeaning racial stereotypes about First Nations people. When the press release was brought to its attention by First Nations leadership, the Thunder Bay Police Service denied (before completing its own investigation into the matter) that the press release was racist in nature”.

At issue for many people might be that calling the suspect, captured in Kenora, the ‘fresh breath killer’ was not racist in nature. However talking to many First Nation’s people, at issue is that it is a term they have heard suspects being arrested also called before by officers.

The Thunder Bay Police Service and individual officers are feeling hurt by the human rights complaint being filed. They feel, that by filing the complaint, the issue has been clouded and that the good work of many many officers are being impeded or denigrated.

The bringing forward of the complaint by the First Nations communities and the Nishnawbe-Aski First Nation is perhaps a clear indication that the tolerance for slurs and innuendo has become increasingly short.

This issue has likely brought the entire issue of how First Nations persons are treated by police to the public forum.

Perhaps the real issue should be that of alcohol abuse and addiction?

In the Thunder Bay Police Service 2011 Annual Report it states, “In 2011, 4,765 persons were held in custody at 1200 Balmoral Street. Of that number, nearly half were taken into custody because of intoxication (2,239 persons)”.

That represents 186 persons per month, or six people per day who are arrested due to issues with intoxication. It represents a serious issue for both police and for our community.

The real issue of addiction and the abuse of alcohol in our community is one that needs to be addressed. If you walk about some of the areas of our community, there are places where you will find empty bottles of mouthwash, as well sadly of empty bottles of hairspray.

Witnessing how officers have dealt with some very intoxicated individuals over the past several months, the professionalism of the officers has to be noted.

When it comes to the issue now before the Human Rights Tribunal, this issue was attempted to be solved by meetings between both parties earlier in September.

That it could not be solved and is now headed to the Human Rights Tribunal is a solid indication that more work remains to be done in Thunder Bay to bring everyone together.

At issue as well perhaps is that for the Thunder Bay Police Service and some of the media in the city the level of respect is not fully what it could be. The re-traction of the ‘erroneous’ media release, and the following coverage of that story has gained likely more coverage than the murder of Mr. Yellowhead.

Thunder Bay can, and must do better to make all residents of our city feel like they are a part of our community.

Any argument?

James Murray

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