Timmins mayor, Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council react to deaths

The Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council and the mayor of Timmins say it is time for the healing to begin.
A crowd gathers at Gillies Lake Tuesday afternoon following reports of the death of 21-year-old Joey Knapaysweet and 62-year-old Agnes Sutherland. (Jean-Loup Dodard/ Radio-Canada)

The Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council and the mayor of Timmins say it is time for the healing to begin.

Jonathan Solomon and Steve Black spoke at a Police Services Board in Timmins today and addressed the deaths of two people from Fort Albany which has left both communities in shock.

21-year-old Joey Knapaysweet and 62-year-old Agnes Sutherland both died while under police care, according to a statement released yesterday by Solomon, along with Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon,

Both had arrived in Timmins to access health services not available in the remote James Bay community, the statement said.

Timmins mayor Steve Black said at a police services board meeting that there hasn't been a police incident of a discharged firearm in 34 years. (Jean-Loup Dodard/ Radio Canada)

The province's Special Investigations Unit has not confirmed the identities, but a vigil for Knapaysweet was held at Gillies Lake in Timmins Tuesday afternoon.

Black, who also chairs the Timmins Police Services Board, was quick to call out social media racism at city council Tuesday night, and today stressed the need for community trust.

"I wanted to say on behalf of our police service there has not been an incident of discharging a firearm in 34 years prior to this" Black said.

"But at the end of the day we have a police service that comes to work hoping to do their job, maintains safety in the community, but also go home safely at the end of the day to their families."

Jonathan Solomon, the Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council, said he's respecting the Special Investigation Unit's process. (Jean-Loup Dodard/ Radio Canada)

Grand Chief Solomon said it's important for people to wait on the conclusions drawn in the SIU's investigation.

"We're all in a state of shock and disbelief, Solomon said. "But I want to respect the [SIU investigation] and I will be waiting for a report," Solomon said.

Solomon said he also hopes investigators speak with family members.

"I am hoping...the investigators can know who these people are who died, so they will understand who they are, where they come from, and come to a conclusion," he said.

As for the impact the deaths have had on Fort Albany, Solomon said he has seen people step up and provide support for the families.

"It's time the families can feel comfort knowing there's people thinking about them," Solomon said. "Not only people from First Nations communities, but people from TImmins."

"I know there's been people from Timmins offering condolences, dropping off food. It means a lot to have that respectful relationship as neighbours."