Thunder Bay

Police fine First Nations woman for jaywalking after her skull was cracked in 'hit-and-run'

The family of a First Nations woman who had her skull fractured and her leg badly mangled in a collision with a car in Thunder Bay, Ont., is criticizing police for ticketing her, while letting the driver go free.

Injured woman's family accuse Thunder Bay police of "callous and unbalanced" behaviour

Police say the driver was not charged in a collision with Geraldine Mamakwa that left the Indigenous grandmother with a fractured skull and mangled leg. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Geraldine Mamakwa was crossing the street in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to catch a city bus and meet her grandchildren on a Monday afternoon in February, when she was hit by a car, fracturing her skull and mangling her leg.

Her family says the shock of the accident had barely worn off when they discovered a police officer had visited Mamakwa's hospital room while she was recovering from surgery two days later to issue Mamakwa a $155 fine for jaywalking.

The driver was not charged.

"I have a lot of questions about the circumstances of the accident and the conduct and the duty of the investigating officer," Mamakwa's sister Mary-Ellen Thomas told CBC News.

"My family and I want to know why did they quickly conclude the accident was Geraldine's fault, why is that?"

The collision happened on February 13, at the intersection of Victoria and Marks Street in the neighbourhood where Mamakwa, 46, has lived for two decades, Thomas said.

Thomas said she pushed to get information from the police and when she finally saw some of the details in the incident report, they seemed unbelievable.

"Where was the driver of the vehicle who was going, as reported in the collision report, eight kilometres per hour in a heavily trafficked intersection? It was a hit and run." Thomas said. 

"It was also my understanding that she was left in the middle of the road and traffic was going by her and no one cordoned off the intersection to make sure nobody else hit her," she said.

A spokesperson for Thunder Bay police told CBC News the collision was not a hit and run.

"The driver remained on scene and was spoken to along with witnesses to the collision," Chris Adams wrote in an email.

Father pens letter of complaint

Mamakwa's father, Gerry McKay wrote a letter of complaint to Thunder Bay Police Chief and the Mayor.

"Regardless of the circumstances of the accident, this police conduct comes across as callous and unbalanced," Gerry McKay wrote in the letter dated March 2, 2017. "Whether or not Geraldine was jaywalking, she was not fair game to be run over without consequences."

A spokesperson for police said the incident was thoroughly investigated and that police "welcome the opportunity to address concerns of the family when we receive their complaint."

But Thomas and McKay said their concerns go beyond Mamakwa's situation. They said they've been hearing from many First Nations people who have been struck by vehicles in the city and are disappointed in the treatment they receive from police.

"It's insensitive," Thomas said. "You can't have access to facts and information because they've already concluded the First Nation [person] is at fault."

'Frayed relations'

McKay, who is the chief executive officer with the Independent First Nations Alliance, said the frequent collisions with First Nations pedestrians and the way they're investigated by police is reminiscent of concerns raised at last year's inquest into deaths of seven First Nations students.

"This pattern of conduct must be considered in the context of the frayed relations between the Thunder Bay Police force and First Nations citizens," he said. "Many people are on edge, upset, afraid and unsure whether they can trust the police."

McKay is calling for an inquiry into pedestrian and other traffic accidents involving First Nations people in the city.

"The Thunder Bay Police Service is very concerned about public safety and in particular, the safety of pedestrians," said Cst. Julie Tilbury. "We work with the public and the city to address safety issues on our roadways on a continuing basis."