A Saskatchewan lawyer says the allegation that a Thunder Bay Police officer drove a First Nations man to the edge of the city and left him there needs to be taken seriously.
Donald Worme worked on high-profile cases in Saskatchewan involving similar allegations and said an investigation into Saskatoon police about a decade ago led to positive changes in the force.
The OPP has said it is investigating the actions of a Thunder Bay police officer.
"If [the allegations are] found to be true, then I think that there needs to be a real outrage expressed and a genuine demand for systemic change," Worme said.
"Otherwise the tragedies that were experienced here in Saskatchewan by far too many families, will be experienced elsewhere."
Frozen to death
In the winter of 2000 a series of events came to light in Saskatchewan. Young, aboriginal men were being dropped off at the edge of town and several were found frozen to death. After one man reported what happened to him, it was found that all of these men had been seen in police custody before they were found.
That’s when an investigation into police was launched. It led to two police officers being arrested, charged and convicted.
Worme said during the course of those investigations a case from the 1990s — one that involved teenager Neil Stonechild, who was also found frozen to death — came up. Stonechild's case led to a judicial inquiry in which Worme represented the Stonechild family.
While Worme wouldn't say that police were targeting aboriginal people, he observed the people involved were usually of First Nations origin.
Change in attitude
Worme said he thinks police were employing this tactic because officers were tired of dealing with the same people over and over. He called the tactic a short-cut.
"It's one thing to do this in the summer, but it's quite another thing to do this in the winter [when] we all know, living in this Northern climate, this weather kills," he said, particularly if people are intoxicated or have been assaulted.
The investigations led to positive change in the Saskatchewan police force, Worme said. The inquiry brought forth numerous recommendations — most of which have been implemented.
"I do think that there has been a change in the attitude of police services vis-a-vis Aboriginal people," Worme said.
"And I think that the relationship between the aboriginal community and police services is much improved."
He noted the allegations in Thunder Bay must be thoroughly investigated. Police are not going to change voluntarily, Worme said, and there needs to be a push.