First Nations Chiefs 'shocked' by Timmins deaths

Prominent Indigenous leaders are wondering if "systemic racism" contributed to the deaths of two people from a James Bay community while under police care in Timmins and are calling on provincial authorities to investigate.
Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aki Nation is calling on Ontario authorities to investigate the deaths of two Fort Albany residents while in Timmins. (Alvin Fiddler)

Prominent Indigenous leaders are wondering if "systemic racism" contributed to the deaths of two people from a James Bay community while under police care in Timmins and are calling on provincial authorities to investigate.

According to the Chiefs, 21-year-old Joey Knapaysweet and 62-year-old Agnes Sutherland left the remote community of Fort Albany, near Ontario's James Bay coast, to seek medical care in Timmins.

A statement released today by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, and Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon said they were "shocked that two Fort Albany members have died at the hands of police."

"Our people must continually leave their families and communities to come to cities to seek services that are not available in their respective communities," the release said.

"We have seen systemic racism in the City of Thunder Bay, and must now wonder if this is also happening in Timmins."

Deaths overshadowing emergency council

The deaths have overshadowed the emergency summit being held in Timmins by the Mushkegowuk Council this week.

The regional James Bay government declared a state of emergency in November, worried about a tide of drugs and alcohol coming into its seven member communities.

Police have not officially released the names of the deceased, but numerous sources, including Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, have confirmed the identities as Knapaysweet and Sutherland.

The two deaths are both currently under investigation by the province's Special Investigations Unit.

People gather at a vigil in Timmins for Joey Knapaysweet, 21, of Fort Albany First Nation, near the spot on Gillies Lake where he was shot by police on Feb. 3. (Facebook)

The Chiefs said that Knapaysweet "had an interaction with Timmins police which led to him being Tasered and ultimately shot and killed by the police."

Agnes Sutherland was confined to a wheelchair at the time of her involvement with police, the release said.

"It is alleged that when police attended at the scene of the local shelter Ms. Sutherland was treated roughly while being taken into police custody," the release said. "She suffered severe complications during her detention and ultimately was taken to hospital where she died Sunday evening."

The release also said Chief Andrew Solomon is calling on the Attorney General of Ontario and the Minister of Community Safety to investigate the Timmins Police.

Timmins mayor calls out racists

Timmins Mayor Steve Black thinks too much is being said about these incidents in his city and called for calm at the start of Tuesday night's city council meeting.

"I would encourage our community to please refrain from some of the comments that are being made towards the individual and the family that are not appropriate and racist in some regard in social media circles and definitely inappropriate for a time like this," Black said.

"And some of the comments towards our police, I believe. We should wait for the investigation to take its course and hear from the SIU."