Thunder Bay Police Service Press Conference

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Thunder Bay Police Service Press Conference
Thunder Bay Police Service Press Conference

Challenging Times – Acting Chief of Police

THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay Police Service and the Thunder Bay Polices Services Board held a joint media conference at the Balmoral Street headquarters today to in the words of a media release, “Realities and Challenges”.

The press conference was an opportunity for the TBPS to address some of the concerns raised by Nishnawbe-Aski Nation leaders, along with Grand Council Treaty #3 and Rainy River First Nation who have express serious concerns over the ability of the TBPS to conduct investigations into the deaths of Indigenous youth.

The Chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board Jackie Dojack told the press conference that the reason that Vice Chair Brian McKinnon was taking the lead on police services issues a few weeks ago was that she had been precluded from board activities. Dojack did not fully explain the reason for her time, a week in this case, being precluded from board activities.

Business as Usual – Acting Chief

The Acting Chief of Police, Sylvie Hauth told the media that she does not believe there is a crisis situation in Thunder Bay regarding the deaths of Indigenous youth in the city. The Acting Chief explained that right now the Thunder Bay Police Service  are facing “challenging times”.

The Thunder Bay Police are calling on the public to stand with the police and for all members of all communities to get information to police which can assist in their investigations.

Acting Deputy Police Chief Don Lewis stated that the investigations into the deaths of Keeash and Begg are still ongoing. Questions from APTN on the apparent contrast between statements from Police and those statements were confusing were addressed as well.

The follow are the joint statements issued today as part of the Thunder Bay Police Service news conference.

June 7, 2017 1:30 p.m.  – Balmoral HQ

Introduction:

Good afternoon.  I’m Acting Chief Sylvie Hauth.  I’m joined today by Thunder Bay Police Services Board Chair Jackie Dojack and Acting Deputy Don Lewis.

We would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional lands of the Ojibwa people of the Fort William First Nation in the territory of the Robinson-Superior Treaty.  We also recognize the contribution of our Metis citizens.

We’ll all be available for questions at the end of all of our statements.

Our purpose today is to provide updates on a number of matters which are of interest to the public.  To say that we are in challenging times would be an understatement.  I would like to assure everyone that the men and women of the Thunder Bay Police Service are doing their duty to serve and protect everyone who visits Thunder Bay or calls Thunder Bay home.  As members of this community, we, as a Service, have a vested interest in the safety and well-being of all people. We are united by common goals and we are committed to making our city a safe place to live, study, visit and thrive.

We would like to thank the Police Services Board and the citizens of Thunder Bay for their support and confidence in our Service.  The Board’s governance role is crucial. 

Board Chair Jackie Dojack will now comment on the Ontario Civilian Police Commission’s Section 25 review.

Police Services Board Chair Dojack: In Ontario, police services and police services boards are ultimately accountable to the public through the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.  The Commission is conducting an investigation pursuant to section 25(1) (b) and (c) of the Police Services Act.

The OCPC has notified the board that:

“An investigation under section 25 is not punitive and is not directed at individual conduct of members of the Board. Rather it is focused on ensuring that the Board is providing sufficient oversight to the Thunder Bay Police Service in a manner that ensures adequate and effective police services and that maintains public confidence in the delivery of police services in Thunder Bay.”

The Thunder Bay Police Services Board is cooperating fully with the Commission.  The oversight which the Commission provides is critical to public trust and confidence in the Board’s governance role with our police service.

Acting Chief Hauth: On Monday June 5th, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Hawkes confirmed that the OPP had recently conducted a review of our investigation into the death of Stacey DeBungee.  This review was done at the request of the Thunder Bay Police Service.  In the fall of 2016, the Thunder Bay Police Service Chief of Police had requested that the OPP review the case.  At that time, the OPP indicated that they would not do so since the investigation was the subject of a complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).

The OPP was approached again by the Thunder Bay Police Service in January 2017 to conduct a review of this case. At that time, the OPP were able to take on the review which was started on February 1st, 2017.  We were provided with a copy of the OPP review on May 15th, 2017 and their report is now being reviewed by the Thunder Bay Police Service.

The OIPRD will in the near future, report on their review of our investigation.

Acting Chief Hauth: Acting Deputy Lewis will now provide some perspective as to the efforts to investigate the tragic deaths of Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg.  He will also provide you with information as to our ongoing River Bank patrol project which has been in place since the fall of 2016 to provide patrols of our city’s waterways.

Acting Deputy Chief Lewis: May 7, 2017 – Tammy KEEASH is reported missing at 2:23pm. At 8:41pm police respond to the discovery of a body located in the McIntyre floodway near Redwood Ave and Ford St. The body is later identified to be that of Tammy KEEASH. May 10, 2017, the post mortem examination was conducted in Toronto. As previously reported to the media, evidence indicated Tammy’s death was consistent with drowning. Several people have been interviewed by investigators. This file remains open and continues to be actively investigated and Tammy’s family is regularly updated.

May 8, 2017 – Josiah BEGG is reported missing at 10:02am. The next ten days saw an average of ten (10) members of the Thunder Bay Police Service, both Officers and civilians, actively engaged and working on this investigation. Investigators conducted interviews in and outside of the city of Thunder Bay. The assistance of several organizations was requested and utilized including; Thunder Bay Fire and Rescue, Nishnawbe-Aski Police, Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.), Nishnawbe-Aski Nation searchers, Facebook and countless volunteers. Physical searches conducted utilized people on foot, boats, helicopter, drones and divers.

On May 18, 2017, O.P.P. divers discovered a body in the McIntyre river floodway in the area of Atlantic Ave that was later identified as Josiah BEGG. May 21, 2017, the post mortem was conducted in Toronto. This file remains open and continues to be actively investigated and Josiah’s family is regularly updated.

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. As stated, the Thunder Bay Police welcomes any and all information from any source that could assist investigators in these cases.

Thunder Bay Police Initiatives and The Bear Clan

In October 2016, a Foot Patrol initiative began which involves members of Thunder Bay Police Uniform Patrol Division conducting foot patrols along pathways in identified areas of concern. Three areas currently identified are; McVicker Creek, McIntyre River/Floodway and Kaministiquia River.

Another patrol initiated by the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in November 2016, is known as ‘The Bear Clan’. The Thunder Bay Police have assisted in safety awareness training with the Bear Clan members and look forward to working with them in their foot patrol efforts.

The Thunder Bay Police Community Services Branch is working with the LCBO on a project to address alcohol getting into the hands of underage persons.  

Acting Chief Hauth: Statements were made at a recent news conference held by Nishnawbe Aski Nation Leaders that the Thunder Bay Police Service have the RCMP investigate Tammy and Josiah’s deaths.  At this time, we do not believe that this is a practical or necessary action to take.  The OIPRD will be reviewing these two death investigations as part of their current review and we are fully cooperating with the Director on this matter. 

As stated by Acting Deputy Chief Lewis, there has been a tremendous effort by the police and the community who came together in support of the families during these difficult investigations.

PSB Chair Dojack: On May 29, hundreds of people gathered at City Hall to take part in a Community Prayer Walk,  held in memory of Tammy Keeash, whose life tragically ended, at age 17. The walk was also intended to support the parents, family, friends and home community of Josiah Begg, whose life tragically ended at age 14.

We gathered together not as institutions, groups, politicians or people with differences. Instead, we gathered as parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends.  Indigenous leaders spoke of “building bridges and taking affirmative action with shared responsibility” and “focusing not on differences but on common goals”.

We were inspired by this Prayer and Unity Walk which showed what can happen when we stand up to support each other.

Acting Chief Hauth: There is still much to be reconciled.  There are many questions that still need to be answered.  We would like to thank Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins for his offer of leadership and support.  Together with the City of Thunder Bay and all community members we can move from conflict to cooperation.  Solutions to hard problems come only when we open our hearts and minds to each other and commit to working together.

The Thunder Bay Police Service and Police Service Board are prepared to work with those who share common goals of community safety and wellness and the rights of all individuals to live without fear.  There is much to do.  There is much to learn.  We encourage all members of this community to join us, to work together, to make this an inclusive community for all who live, study and visit here.