Calls for Complete Overhaul of Thunder Bay Police Service Amid Allegations of Inadequate Investigations

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Families and Indigenous leaders demand action, citing systemic failures in death investigations

QUEEN’S PARK, ON: On April 22, 2024, a group of distraught families, alongside Indigenous leaders, formally requested the disbandment of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) due to ongoing concerns over the handling of death investigations. These demands were voiced during a press conference at Queen’s Park, led by Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa.

NDP Deputy Leader Sol Mamakwa stood alongside First Nations Chiefs, leadership from Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Anishinabek Nation, and families from Thunder Bay left without credible investigations into the deaths of their loved ones. The group called for a complete reform of the Thunder Bay police service (TBPS) after multiple instances of corruption resulting in decades-long cold cases rendered the existing agency unfixable.

“Ontario and the Thunder Bay Police have failed these families,” stated Mamakwa. “The ongoing failure to investigate the deaths of First Nations people in Thunder Bay has turned the service into a cold case factory with over 20 unsolved cases. The rightful pain, frustration and fear Thunder Bay residents feel about TBPS misconduct cannot be ignored.

“Repairing the governance would go a long way in undoing these systematic injustices. Ontario is not allocating proper resources to relieve these families from this nightmare and give them the justice they deserve.

“The Moonias, Belesky, and Ostberg families need support from Ontario to move investigations out of the TBPS and into the hands of a service capable of conducting credible investigations. They are calling for a complete reform of TBPS after countless instances of corruption have rendered the existing force unfixable.

“This isn’t a simple problem, and we can’t solve it overnight. Whatever the ultimate plan is, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to work better than what we have now.”

Persistent Issues and Public Trust

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler criticized TBPS for becoming a “cold case factory,” particularly concerning the deaths of Indigenous individuals. He emphasized the erosion of trust within the community, stating, “It’s like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion, with life-changing consequences for our members.”

“The Thunder Bay Police Service has turned into a cold case factory when it comes to investigations into the deaths of Indigenous Peoples. There is a complete lack of trust. Everything has broken down and it can’t be repaired. It’s like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion, and it has life-changing consequences for our members. It is time for the provincial government to show they care about what is happening in Thunder Bay and disband this Service. Our families don’t need any more reports – they need action,” stated the NAN Grand Chief.

The families have asked the Inspector General of Policing of Ontario to reassign the death investigations of Jenna Ostberg, Corey Belesky, and Mackenzie Moonias to a different police service and to dissolve the TBPS altogether.

Historical and Current Failures

Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum highlighted the province’s inaction since initial calls for the disbandment of TBPS in 2022. She stressed the ongoing disregard for the lives of Indigenous Peoples by the TBPS and backed the families’ calls for accountability.

“The Inspector General, empowered by the Community Safety and Policing Act of 2019, is urged to intervene due to the specific failures in policing related to the death investigations of Indigenous Peoples.”

It is not just deaths from people from NAN communities however, there are several other instances where the Thunder Bay Police have not provided families with updates on the cases, and NetNewsLedger is aware of instances where the police have provided families of murder victims with information that the families say is simply not accurate.

We are simply not the same service – Chief Darcy Fleury

In response, TBPS Chief Darcy Fleury acknowledged the scrutiny facing the police service, expressing his commitment to truth and reconciliation efforts and noting the ongoing cooperation with investigations. He detailed some active cases and stressed the department’s efforts in implementing reforms recommended by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

The Chief stated, “I recognize the families who were present today and extend my deepest condolences to the loved ones and communities of those tragically lost. My thoughts are with those who continue to feel the pain and trauma of loss.

“We will continue to do our work to achieve the closure they deserve, including fully cooperating in any investigations into or complaints regarding the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS). I know TBPS is under scrutiny.

“I take very seriously my responsibility to build confidence and welcome the involvement and wisdom of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and other Indigenous community leaders at any time as we continue in our commitment to advance Truth and Reconciliation.

“I am grateful to our committed and progressive partners for pressing forward with us. We must work together to support people to access the services they need to be safe and healthy. I am here as Chief of Police because of a renewal of both the Board and Administrative leadership as part of that commitment. TBPS began the path we’re on now a year ago and will continue this journey. We are simply not the same service”.

Police Board’s Commitment: The Thunder Bay Police Service Board also responded, expressing condolences and affirming their dedication to transparency and strengthening policies to better serve Indigenous communities. They emphasized the role of strong local decision-making in public safety and the importance of community feedback in shaping police governance.

Community Reaction: The call for disbandment represents a significant moment for Thunder Bay, reflecting deep-seated issues within its policing and an urgent cry for reform. As these tensions unfold, the community watches closely, hoping for decisive action and meaningful change.

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