Thunder Bay – Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Executive Council supports the families and Aboriginal Legal Services who argued today that a police video depicting the racist and degrading treatment of an Indigenous inmate by Thunder Bay Police must be allowed to be admitted as evidence at an upcoming inquest to assist a jury to shape recommendations and address how racism, bias and stereotyping may have been a factor in the deaths of two First Nation inmates while in the custody of the Thunder Bay Police.
“The attempt by the Thunder Bay Police Service to suppress this evidence shows how far the police will go to cover up the truth about their treatment of Indigenous people in this city. This confirms that the Thunder Bay Police remain unwilling to confront the deadly issue of systemic racism, despite the police Chief’s reluctant acknowledgment of systemic racism in the service after the release of the OIPRD Report in 2018,” said Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. “This is racism, and the jury must be allowed to hear this evidence.”
Don Mamakwa, 44, of Kasabonika Lake First Nation, died on August 3, 2014. Roland McKay, 50, of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, died on July 19, 2017. An inquest will examine the circumstances around their deaths.
The Thunder Bay Police Service is trying to suppress a video showing Thunder Bay Police officers dragging Dino Kwandibens, of Whitesand First Nation, across the floor with an officer referring to him with demeaning and derogatory language. This was while Kwandibens was in custody on August 2, 2014, the same night Mamakwa was arrested and later found dead in his cell. Legal counsel for the Thunder Bay Police Chief and several officers involved oppose the inclusion of the cellblock video, arguing that it is outside the scope of the Mamakwa-McKay inquest.
During today’s proceeding, legal counsel for the Chief of Police argued that the video showing Dino Kwandibens being dragged by his leg by officers would cause emotions and reactions that are distracting and would leave a jury with a “tainted view” of officers and what occurs on a daily basis at the police service.
Likewise, counsel for the officers called the video “irrelevant and prejudicial”, calling it an “isolated incident” that would divert attention away from “important issues at play” in the inquest.
Lawyers for the Mamakwa and McKay families argued that the video footage should be admitted as it shows how police racism affects the treatment of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay. They argue that the scope of the inquest includes “how racism, bias and stereotyping may have been a factor in the Thunder Bay…police officers’ interactions with Don Mamakwa.”
They argued that the video will help the jury understand circumstances around the deaths, identify systemic issues, and what actions can be taken to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Counsel for the families argued that these incidents are connected, relevant, and that claims of prejudice against the police is just “damage control” by institutional authorities. They pointed out the absence of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board at the inquest, arguing that the Board must not think its reputation is at stake.
Coroner’s counsel submitted that the treatment of Dino Kwandibens and Don Mamakwa involved language and decision-making by officers that appear to be influenced by “stereotyping”, arguing that this is relevant to the inquest scope of “how racism, bias and stereotyping” may have been a factor in the deaths of Don Mamakwa and Roland McKay.
In questions to counsel, presiding coroner Dr. David Cameron suggested that viewing the video would be a, “fabulous opportunity” and “illuminating” for the Mamakwa-McKay inquest jury.
“To preserve the integrity of these inquest proceedings and to ensure that the outcome is relevant and addresses the very real issues of systemic racism that continues to pervade the police service, the full truth must be told,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “The families deserve nothing less.”
The Thunder Bay Police Services Board was disbanded following a 2018 report by Senator Murray Sinclair for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission that documented the Board’s failure to recognize and address violence and systemic racism against the Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.
That report followed a scathing report by the Ontario Independent Police Review Director, Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service, documenting systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service and recommended new investigations into nine cases involving the deaths of Indigenous people.