Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services has received three fresh complaints of police misconduct since the organization offered to act as a point of contact for First Nations people concerned about their safety.

Thunder Bay police are already under investigation by outside police services for two other reports of misconduct.

Celina Reitberger, a lawyer who is the executive director of Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services, said all of the new allegations come from First Nations youth.

"I know there are a lot of good police out there, but my sense is that there are a few rotten apples in the barrel and they need to be weeded out," Reitberger said. "Unless people come forward and bear witness to the abuses they suffered, this will not happen."

Reitberger said she’ll be meeting with two of the young people later this week to help them decide how to pursue their complaints.

Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services stepped forward as the key point of contact for First Nations people with concerns about police, after a community safety meeting in Thunder Bay earlier this month.

"This is almost becoming an epidemic and we need to do something about it," Reitberger said.  "In my opinion, the community has to really pull together to stop this behaviour."

Racial tension on the rise

Reitberger said the complaints against police come at a time when racial tensions are becoming more evident in Thunder Bay.

"I think there has always been a level of racism in Thunder Bay, but ... this has really escalated since the Idle No More movement began," she said.

The Ontario Native Women’s Association said it has distributed about 600 personal safety alarms since the abduction and sexual assault of a First Nations woman on Dec. 27.


Danielle Big George says sometimes people throw garbage and yell racial slurs at her when she is walking down the street in Thunder Bay. (Martine Laberge/Radio-Canada)

Danielle Big George now carries one of the pocket-sized devices that make a loud noise after a tab is pulled.

The 18-year-old said it's not uncommon for men to yell racist remaks, throw things at her, or worse, as she walks down the street.

"I've had some guys … try to come pick me up and say get in my car," she said. "It's really scary, actually."

The situation is similar to that described by  a teen who said he witnessed the Dec. 27 abduction.

But Big George said, like the witness, she and her friends are reluctant to talk to police about the incidents.

"A few people that I talk to don't really trust the police," Big George said. "They feel [police] don't really do anything sometimes, or do as much as they really can do."

Help for witnesses too

Reitberger said Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services is interested in hearing from people like Big George to help them address safety concerns in the city.

"I’m encouraging people if they don’t feel comfortable talking to police, then come to us because we can help navigate through the system," she said.

That includes the teen who said he witnessed the abduction.

"I can certainly understand his feeling of terror, but I think if he has the where-with-all to come forward, we can help him," she said.

"He has done the right thing by telling his story and now there is a chance for him to become, to bear witness to what has happened and to assist the authorities in solving this heinous crime."