Thunder Bay

'Disappointing' response so far to 7 youth inquest recommendations, says Aboriginal Legal Services

Legal representatives for the families of six of the seven Indigenous students who were the subject of a coroner's inquest in Thunder Bay, Ont., say, overall, the response to the jury's recommendations so far has been "disappointing."

Federal government graded the lowest of 8 parties in its response

The seven students who were the subjects of the inquest are, from top left, Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Paul Panacheese, 17, Robyn Harper, 18, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morriseau, 17, and Jordan Wabasse, 15. (CBC)

Legal representatives for the families of six of the seven Indigenous students who were the subject of a coroner's inquest in Thunder Bay, Ont., say, overall, the response to the jury's recommendations so far has been "disappointing."

Aboriginal Legal Services, which represents the families, delivered a one-year "report card" on how the various parties to which jurors made recommendations — including various levels of government, police and First Nations service providers — have responded so far.

Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Robyn Harper, 19, Paul Panacheese, 21, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morrisseau, 17 and Jordan Wabasse,15, all died in the northwestern Ontario city between November 2000 and May 2011. The inquest concluded in 2016 with jurors making 145 recommendations to eight parties.
While some organizations scored better, overall, the report card graded the response to the inquest recommendations a C+. (Amy Hadley / CBC)

The parties were graded as follows:

  • Government of Canada – D
  • City of Thunder Bay – C+
  • Nishnawbe Aski Nation – C+
  • Province of Ontario – C+
  • Thunder Bay Police Service – B+
  • Northern Nishnawbe Education Council and Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School – A-
  • Matawa Learning Centre – A-
  • Keewaytinook Okimakanak – A

The report issued a grade of C + for progress overall. 

"[It's] not a very good grade given that most of the recommendations, we think, certainly could have been implemented in a year," said Jonathan Rudin, a lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services.

According to the report, some progress has been made on 61 per cent of the recommendations. Nothing has been accomplished on 24 per cent, while 15 per cent have been completed.

"The positive side is I think a lot of work has been done on a lot of the recommendations and we really do hope next year that more will be completed," Rudin continued.

"Certainly, if they're not completed, then it's going to be a much less optimistic press conference."
Jonathan Rudin is a lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services. (Amy Hadley / CBC)

The grades were based on progress reports that were filed by the individual parties with the Office of the Chief Coroner by the end of June. A mathematical formula was created to quantify that progress.

The federal government had the most recommendations (81); nothing has been accomplished on 43 per cent of those, the report stated. Nine per cent have been completed.

About three-quarters of the 31 recommendations aimed at the City of Thunder Bay, have seen some progress, while 23 per cent are complete. The report stated that no progress has been made on only one recommendation: that procedures should be implemented for dealing with incapacitated individuals, specifically youth 18 and under, including when denied entry to or removed from city buses.

Four of the 10 recommendations made to Thunder Bay police are complete, while the remaining are in progress.

We really do hope next year that more will be completed-Jonathan Rudin

Continuing to monitor the progress of the inquest's recommendations is key to ensuring steps are taken to improve the health and safety of Indigenous students and limit the chance of further deaths, Rudin said.

"The families live with this every day," Rudin said. "Every time we talk to them, they're still living with it, so the pain is just magnified when this happens to someone else."

Rudin said he believes that the organizations that are the most invested in the issue, are taking the recommendations the most seriously.

"The organizations in Thunder Bay are doing things," he said. "As you move outside of Thunder Bay, as it becomes more abstract, it seems that interest may fall off."