Thunder Bay city council votes to implement student deaths inquest recommendations
No councillor present at Monday's meeting claimed to have attended the inquest in Thunder Bay in-person
City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont. have voted to accept and implement the 31 recommendations directed towards the city that were made by a jury at the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students.
Councillors spent over an hour of Monday's meeting hearing presentations on the issue and discussing the city's role in combating racism and how to ensure council and administration follow through on the recommendations.
That's despite that no one on city council appeared to have attended any of the inquest hearings — an observation made by Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum.
"During the inquest I'm not sure if any of you came to sit in that courtroom to listen to the testimony of the parents who lost their children," she told councillors.
"Maybe you were there when I couldn't make it."
Several councillors claimed they received legal advice not to attend the inquest. CBC News was told that City Manager Norm Gale — the city's spokesperson for matters related to the inquest — won't comment on what advice council was given.
'I didn't go once, and I'm sorry'
Some councillors did say on Monday that they regretted the decision not to attend in person.
"I watched from the sidelines and I just read the articles and the reports but I wasn't there," Coun. Shelby Ch'ng said tearfully. "And it was because I was afraid."
"My shop is within 10 metres of the courthouse and I didn't go once, and I'm sorry."
Achneepineskum said after the meeting she felt that whatever legal advice council may have received shouldn't have precluded attending the inquest, in light of the fact it was dealing with the deaths of seven young people.
I didn't go once, and I'm sorry. - Coun. Shelby Ch'ng
She said she was confident, however, that the apologies offered Monday were genuine.
"I'm very thankful that I came to this meeting and I believe that as we move forward ... that we need to be there at the table together with mutual respect," she said.
Recommendations aimed at helping Indigenous students feel safe, welcome
The inquest jury's recommendations directed toward the city cover a wide range with many of them focused on helping First Nations youth feel welcome in Thunder Bay, in part by introducing them to city services and recreational opportunities.
Others deal with implementing efforts to help ensure the safety of Indigenous young people and ways to combat and report racism, along with securing partnerships and funding to make that happen.
Achneepineskum said she believes the city is ahead of other levels of government in addressing the recommendations.
"I am very encouraged that they are committed to building relationships, not only when it comes to implementing these recommendations but overall on some of the other issues that we have," she said, while acknowledging there is still a lot of work to be done.