Thunder Bay

'It's not safe': MPP calls for Thunder Bay jail to be shut down

The MPP for the Kiiwetinoong riding is joining calls for the province to shut down the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Sol Mamakwa’s nephew died at the jail in early June

MPP Sol Mamakwa's nephew died at the Thunder Bay District Jail in early June. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The MPP for the Kiiwetinoong riding is calling on the province to shut down the Thunder Bay District Jail.

"There's nine people that have died over the years," Mamakwa said, adding that calls to close the jail have also come from others, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

"A jail should be able to provide support, heal, and provide the mental health [support] that's needed," Mamakwa said. "We need to be able to support people that have mental health issues, and not treat them as criminals."

Overcrowding has long been an issue at the Thunder Bay District Jail, which is nearly a century old.

Mamakwa toured the Thunder Bay jail in April 2019, noting he saw mattresses on the floor of the already-small cells.

"It's worse than I expected," he said. "It's like a factory that produces broken Indigenous people, and it dehumanizes the young people and the young men that go in there."

"It's not safe for the inmates, but also not safe to have staff working under those conditions."

The province has twice announced plans – the initial announcement came in 2017, and plans were reaffirmed in April 2019 – for a new Thunder Bay correctional facility that would replace both the Thunder Bay District Jail, and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.

Work on the facility has yet to begin.

Mamawka announced earlier this month that his nephew, Kevin Mamakwa, was found unresponsive at the jail on June 1.

In an interview on CBC's Superior Morning on Thursday, Mamakwa said his nephew was "really involved in sports, but also had these issues of mental health, and also addiction."

The investigation remains ongoing; Mamakwa said the cause of death has not yet been confirmed.