Timmins police, hospital named in Human Rights Tribunal application
OHRC allege racism and systematic discrimination in deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland in 2018
The Ontario Human Rights Commission says it is filing an application with Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal alleging discrimination by the Timmins Police Service, the Timmins Hospital and Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board.
The filing comes on the two-year anniversary of the deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland.
Their families have also filed complaints with the tribunal.
Knapaysweet was shot by Timmins police after fleeing the Timmins hospital emergency room on February 3, 2018.
The officers were subsequently cleared by the province's Special Investigations Unit.
In the SIU's report, police said Knapaysweet was wielding a knife in the hospital's ambulance bay and asking police officers to "shoot him in the head."
Toxicology reports indicate that Knapaysweet had a high level of methamphetamine is his blood.
On Feb. 4, 2018, Agnes Sutherland, 62, died in hospital after being arrested and jailed following a disturbance at a Timmins shelter.
The officer on scene at the shelter requested a "police vehicle with a protective screen" be sent to take Sutherland to the police station.
While they were waiting, the SIU says she "manoeuvred herself out of the wheelchair and sat on the snow covered and icy ground." She refused to get back in her wheelchair, so the officer "partially carried/partially dragged her to the police cruiser and placed her inside."
She was taken to the police station and eventually asked to go to the hospital to speak with a psychiatrist. She was taken there by ambulance, transferred to the hospice centre and died the next day.
Both Knapaysweet and Sutherland were originally from the remote Cree community of Fort Albany and were in Timmins to seek medical care.
In a press release, the Human Rights Commission of Ontario said the two deaths highlight the "serious and sometimes tragic result of systemic discrimination against First Nations peoples in Northern Ontario."
"Both Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland traveled to Timmins from Fort Albany First Nation, more than 400 km away, to access health services that were not available in their community. These circumstances left them particularly vulnerable to discrimination," reads the release.
Renu Mandhane, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, said she visited Timmins following the deaths of Knapaysweet and Sutherland and delivered training on human rights for municipal service providers at the time.
She said she also facilitated a listening forum that brought together Indigenous leaders and municipal leaders to have a conversation about their experiences.
"We heard a lot about discrimination in service delivery," Mandhane said. "So people having interactions with public service organizations like the police and the hospital and the District Social Services Board that they felt were either discriminatory on an individual basis, or systemically discriminatory."
She referred to it at the time as "normalised racism."
"Not being able to be served in an Indigenous language at the hospital, not having an interpretation services available, not feeling that staff understood the cultural context in which people were arriving from remote communities," she said.
Mandhane published a report following the visit and emphasized the need for change.
"So you know we certainly have been engaged with these different institutions and they were aware of some of our concerns, you know," Mandhane said. "But at least to date we have not gotten any formal indication that they have taken the steps that we outlined in our applications."
The commission is seeking a variety of public interest remedies, including requiring the respondents to:
- Engage with Indigenous communities to understand their concerns and needs
- Develop policies and provide training to ensure that their services are delivered in a culturally competent and safe manner, free of discrimination
- Develop a human resources plan to promote and expand the hiring and promotion of Indigenous staff
- Collect human rights-based data to identify problems and monitor solutions.