Thunder Bay

Hearing to determine if officers involved in DeBungee investigation will face disciplinary proceedings

A hearing will determine whether three Thunder Bay police officers will face disciplinary proceedings for their investigation into the death of an Indigenous man in 2015.

OIPRD review substantiated allegations of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct

An extension hearing will be held Wednesday afternoon to determine if three officers will face disciplinary proceedings for their role in the Thunder Bay Police Service's investigation into the 2015 death of Stacy DeBungee. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

A hearing will determine whether three Thunder Bay police officers will face disciplinary proceedings for their investigation into the death of an Indigenous man in 2015 that was determined to be insufficient.

Two officers were found to have allegations of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct substantiated, as was an allegation of neglect of duty against a third officer, for their investigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee after a review of the investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).

While the OIPRD directed the Thunder Bay Police Service to hold disciplinary hearings against the officers, the Thunder Bay Police Service must agree to an extension because the officers were not served with notice of the hearing within six months as required by the Police Services Act.

An extension hearing is scheduled to be held virtually on Wednesday afternoon. Retired judge Lee Ferrier has been appointed to act on the board's behalf.

The body of the 41-year-old DeBungee, from Rainy River First Nations, was found just off the bank of the McIntyre River on the morning of Oct. 19, 2015. A press release issued less than three hours after the body was found stated that the initial investigation did not indicate the death to be suspicious, which was followed a day later by a subsequent press release that said the death had been determined to be "non-criminal" before an autopsy was conducted.

The body of Stacy DeBungee, a 41-year-old from Rainy River First Nations, was found in the McIntyre River in Thunder Bay on Oct. 19, 2015. (CBC)

The death came while a coroner's inquest was examining the deaths of seven Indigenous youth, with the bodies of five of them found in local waterways.

The case prompted Indigenous leaders to declare a lack of trust in the Thunder Bay Police Service, particularly when it came to investigations involving the deaths of Indigenous people. It also spurred a broader OIPRD review that found the existence of systemic racism within the institutional level of the force.

After a complaint was filed by DeBungee's family and Rainy River First Nations, the OIPRD launched a review of the Thunder Bay Police Service investigation.

The report, which was released nearly three years ago in February 2018, identified several deficiencies in the initial investigation, including a premature conclusion that DeBungee had been intoxicated and rolled into the river. The review found that investigators failed to properly follow up with witnesses or pursue other leads, including a potential deathbed confession of a woman claiming to have pushed DeBungee into the water.

The OIPRD review concluded that allegations of misconduct were substantiated against the officers, concluding that it was "clear that an evidence-based proper investigation" never took place.

The identities of officers named in the OIPRD investigation report are protected by a publication ban.

The hearing was originally planned to be closed to the public, but lawyers for the family, Rainy River First Nation and the CBC brought the matter to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which in 2019 directed Ferrier to reconsider.

A subsequent decision was made to hold a public hearing, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada when it dismissed a leave of appeal application last year.

The Office of the Chief Coroner has confirmed that DeBungee's death is one of several being re-investigated.

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