Thunder Bay

Double tragedy for family of artist Moses Beaver

Mary Wabasse was killed in a car crash Wednesday while on her way to make funeral arrangements for her brother, artist Moses (Amik) Beaver, who died Monday.

Beaver died Monday; his sister, Mary Wabasse, died Wednesday on the way to making his funeral arrangements

Artist Moses Beaver, 57, died Monday. His sister, Mary Wabasse, 58, right, died in a car accident Wednesday on the way to make his funeral arrangements. (Facebook)

The raw grief of one death had barely begun to settle in for the people of Nibinamik First Nation in northern Ontario when another tragedy struck.

Artist Moses (Amik) Beaver, 57, died on Monday after being found unresponsive in his Thunder Bay, Ont., jail cell, raising questions about why a man with obvious mental illness was being held behind bars.

Just two days later, Beaver's sister, Mary Wabasse, 58, was killed in a car crash while travelling 500 kilometres from the remote community of Nibinamik to Thunder Bay to make funeral arrangements for her brother.

"Our community had barely begun to mourn his loss when the news came that his sister Mary was killed in an accident on her way to comfort and care for family members in Thunder Bay," said Nibinamik First Nation Chief Johnny Yellowhead in a news release Thursday.

Yellowhead said Wabasse worked for Tikinagan Child and Family Services in Nibinamik for about a decade and was "a good role model."

Beaver was scheduled to make a court appearance on Tuesday, on charges of assault and failure to comply with bail conditions.

He'd been arrested after a minor altercation with a security guard the community had hired to stay with him in Nibinamik when no mental health treatments were available for him, Yellowhead told CBC Radio As It Happens host Helen Mann on Thursday.

'More questions than answers'

The province's Ministry of Correctional Services will not confirm that Beaver is the man who died after being transferred to hospital from the Thunder Bay District Jail. A spokesperson told CBC News that an ongoing investigation into the death prevents the release of any further information."It is disturbing that there has been no formal statement acknowledging his death, and we are left to grieve two deaths with more questions than answers," Yellowhead said.

"We implore the appropriate officials to provide these answers as quickly as possible, and conduct a full investigation into the death of Moses Beaver and what could have been done to prevent it."

In Ontario, an inquest is mandatory when a person dies in custody of anything other than natural causes. The results of Beaver's postmortem examination have not been publicly released.

Yellowhead said Beaver clearly needed professional help and a psychiatric assessment, not jail time. 

'Callous and offensive'

The collision that killed Wabasse also injured five other family members.

Provincial police said it happened around 12:55 p.m. Wednesday on Highway 102 in Thunder Bay when an eastbound SUV crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming westbound truck.

Wabasse worked for Tikinagan Child and Family Services. (Facebook)

The tragedy was compounded by the behaviour of police, who issued a traffic ticket at the hospital within minutes of Wabasse's death, to a family member involved in the crash, said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

The driver of the SUV was charged with driving left of the centre line, under the Highway Traffic Act, according to police.

"Issuing a citation to a grieving family member in front of a room full of family immediately after the death of a loved one is unacceptably callous and offensive," Fiddler said in a statement Thursday.

"Members of the police, correctional services and ministry officials have spoken at length about fostering better, more culturally appropriate relations with First Nations, but their actions and lack of accountability in the days following the death of Moses Beaver leaves us to question their commitment," he said.

Nibinamik — a community of only 200 or so — is familiar with multiple tragedies. In 2003, seven members of the community died in a plane crash near the First Nation.