Thunder Bay

Aboriginal homicides not about race: police

This past weekend's homicide in Thunder Bay adds to the number of Aboriginal people who have died as a result of violent crime. But city police Chief J.P. Levesque said that statistic is about circumstances, not race.

Experts say poverty and desperation often lead Aboriginal people into dangerous situations where they become victims or perpetrators of crime

Five murders in 2010 earned Thunder Bay the title of being the murder capital of Canada. Four of those five murder victims were Aboriginal people. (Getty Images)

This past weekend's homicide in Thunder Bay adds to the number of Aboriginal people who have died as a result of violent crime. But city police Chief J.P. Levesque said that statistic is about circumstances, not race.

Last year, 80 per cent of the city's murder victims (four out of five) were Aboriginal people.

"It's more dealing with individuals who come into our community and don't really have all the mechanisms in place that they need to have in place to cope with the change in lifestyle," he said.

Thunder Bay's latest homicide victim is an Aboriginal man — 21-year-old Jimmy Monias.

Five murders in 2010 earned Thunder Bay the title of murder capital of Canada. Four of those five murder victims were Aboriginal people: Verna Sturgeon, Randy Cromarty, Keegan Williams, and a teenage girl, whose name is subject to a publication ban.

Following a national trend

A legal expert said poverty and desperation often lead Aboriginal people into dangerous situations where they become victims or perpetrators of crime.

Jonathan Rudin, program director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, said the high proportion of Aboriginal murder victims last year in Thunder Bay, follows a national trend.

According to Statistics Canada, 40 per cent of Saskatoon’s homicide victims (4 of 10) were Aboriginal people. In Winnipeg, fewer than half of the victims of homicide (10 of 22) were identified as Aboriginal people.

"People don't feel that there are ways out and so often they end up in situations where people get killed," Rudin said.

"Often these murders or manslaughters are the results of impetuous acts."

Levesque said police need help from other agencies to help newcomers who struggle to adjust to city life.

"There just doesn't seem to be....anything in place to help make that adjustment in a much easier fashion."

Levesque also noted that, in general, the use of alcohol plays a role in a lot of violent crimes.

Studies needed

An Aboriginal leadership expert said residents in Thunder Bay seem to accept their neighbours who have been here a long time and happen to be First Nations people, but there's discrimination against people, especially young people coming out of the North for work or school.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, inaugural holder of the Nexen Chair in Aboriginal Leadership at the Banff Centre in Alberta, recently wrapped up a month-long stay in Thunder Bay as a visiting scholar.

She said when one segment of society is seen as non-human or less-than-human, they become expendable in the eyes of the larger community and often their victimization goes unnoticed.

Wesley-Esquimaux pointed out that, in places like Dryden, Kenora and Thunder Bay, leaders have to realize race relations will predict their future economically, not just socially.

She gave the example of Caledonia, when First Nations boycotted there, the community entered some serious economic trouble. Esquimaux encouraged Lakehead University to do the studies about the economic impact of First Nations people coming into Thunder Bay as the first step in demonstrating the "value" of the Aboriginal population.

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