Tragic Death of Indigenous Woman Sparks Discussions on Policing and Indigenous Rights

Thunder Bay Police Unit Side Shot of Unit

Ongoing Investigations and Community Concerns

Thunder Bay – NEWS – Ontario’s SIU is investigating the specifics of the incident, including the lack of police response to the domestic disturbance call from Jenna Ostberg’s residence. The SIU investigation of TBPS includes three 911 calls on December 30th – first a domestic disturbance call, second, a cancellation of the first call, and the third call which was responded to that led to the tragic discovery of Ostberg’s death – are under scrutiny.

Thunder Bay Police Service has been the focus of scrutiny for several years, following findings of systemic racism by the Broken Trust report. The Thunder Bay Police Services Board, responsible for the TBPS has also been the subject of scrutiny as well.

Jenna Ostberg’s parents, Vincent Ostberg and Melanie Beardy, have shared their grief and the necessity of conducting their own investigation.

The family of the late Jenna Ostberg is asking for privacy as they grieve the loss of their daughter who died under tragic circumstances on December 30, 2023.

“The family is awaiting the results of the Coroner’s report as well as the investigation by the SIU before making any further comment or making any decisions on how they wish to proceed.

“The family’s fear however, is their daughter is the latest victim of inadequate and unjust policing services received by First Nation women in particular, in Thunder Bay.”

They, along with various First Nations organizations, Windego Tribal Council and Nishnawbe Aski Nation, are advocating for addressing institutional racism, especially in police responses to incidents involving Indigenous women and girls.

The community of Thunder Bay, grappling with this tragedy, is calling for an honest and thorough examination of the challenges facing Indigenous communities in their interactions with law enforcement. Jenna Ostberg’s death is not only a personal loss but a significant moment in the ongoing discourse on policing, community trust, and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Police Association Responds to Tragedy

In the wake of the tragic passing of Jenna Ostberg, a 21-year-old First Nations woman, Thunder Bay Police Association President Colin Wood has issued a heartfelt statement. Wood expressed profound sorrow over Ostberg’s death and extended condolences to her family and those affected.

Acknowledging the scarcity of details due to the ongoing investigation, Wood reassured the public that more information would be made available in due course. He underscored the necessity for transparency and trust between the police and the community, urging SIU Director Joseph Martino to disclose more information. Wood emphasized the Thunder Bay police’s commitment to serving the community with diligence, pride, and respect.

The Police Association says in a statement to media, “From what we understand, details that show a clearer picture of what happened are being withheld while the investigation is ongoing and will be released with time. Given the SIU’s power to make public statement aimed at securing public confidences, we strongly encourage Director Martino to provide further details aimed at ensuring transparency among community members and to safeguard trust between police members and community members we serve”.

Colin Woods continues, “Thunder Bay police members take every call for assistance and their duty to protect our community with the utmost diligence and seriousness. We will continue to build trust with community members while serving our community with diligence, pride, and respect”.

Ostberg Family Seeks Privacy and Justice

Ostberg’s family, voicing their statement through the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, have requested privacy during this difficult time. They raised concerns about the potential broader issue of inadequate and unjust policing services for First Nation women in Thunder Bay. Awaiting the coroner’s office and SIU investigation results, the family is reserving further comments or actions until more information comes to light.

SIU Investigates Police Inaction

This case has garnered national attention due to the Thunder Bay Police Services reported failure to respond to two 911 calls about a domestic disturbance at a Ray Boulevard address. The SIU is investigating the circumstances surrounding these calls and Ostberg’s subsequent death. This incident has heightened concerns about the treatment of First Nation’s women by the Thunder Bay police, amidst findings of systemic racism towards Indigenous people within the police service.

The Thunder Bay Police Service is led by Chief Darcy Fleury who is Indigenous himself was sworn in as Police Chief on May 15, 2023. Fleury has 36-years of policing experience with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and was most recently the RCMP District Commander – Chief Superintendent, Central Alberta District based in Edmonton. Fleury has an extensive experience in investigative, operational, and administrative policing, including leadership at senior and executive levels. His career spans postings in the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Alberta.

Political Fallout

Ontario NDP MPP Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay—Superior North), Solicitor General Critic John Vanthof (Timiskaming—Cochrane), and Critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) released a joint statement in response to the tragic death of Jenna Ostberg:

“This heartbreaking incident is part of a disturbing pattern of violence against women, girls and gender-diverse Ontarians,” said Vaugeois. “For over a year, we’ve been urging the Conservative government to take decisive action, including declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic to draw attention to the seriousness of the situation. Unfortunately, their refusal to act leaves us with more tragic stories. Every domestic violence call should receive immediate attention. When the system fails, lives are lost.”

“We extend our deepest condolences to Jenna Ostberg’s family,” said Mamakwa. “Losing a young First Nations woman with a bright future is an immeasurable loss. We are witnessing a pattern of neglect within a system designed to perpetuate the struggles of First Nations. Unfortunately, it has reached a point where communities can’t rely on the police’s word, and families are forced to open separate investigations for justice. This is the Ontario Ford is comfortable with—institutional racism perpetuating a never-ending cycle. It’s time for our elected leaders to change the status quo in a province built on colonialism.”

“I remember an Ontario where you could accidentally call the police, and they would be at your doorstep within minutes to confirm the call was, in fact, accidental,” said Vanthof. “Unfortunately, under Ford’s watch, this seems like decades ago, and reports are showing Ontarians calling for help are being left for dead. We need answers as to how this happened because a life could possibly have been saved. We owe it to the community, the victims, and their families to make sure that our police forces are equipped with specialized training to respond to and prevent such heartbreaking incidents in the future.”

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