Thunder Bay

First Nations students learn how to file complaints against police in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Indigenous teens in Thunder Bay,Ont. are taking to the airwaves to share the lessons they've been learning about their legal rights during interactions with police.

Radio show made by Dennis Franklin Cromarty students aims to inform others about their legal rights

'I think it's a good idea to report police officers when they do bad things,' says student Kobe Peters, left. Peters and Landon Fiddler, right, helped make a radio show about police complaints. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Miranda Brown says she wanted to know if police officers are always right.

​The 15-year-old from Wapekeka First Nation said it can sometimes feel like that, especially when she's a long way from home, attending high school in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

So Brown was happy when her civics class at Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school started learning more about the rules around what police can and cannot do.

"I learned police are human too and not all humans are always right," Brown said. "But I wish [police] would be more understanding instead of making the first hit and taking a second to listen."

The Ontario Justice Education Network, with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, sponsored the eight-week project that resulted in a radio program, produced by the students, about their legal rights. It's set to air on the Wawatay Radio Network on Thursday.

Morley Quill of Keewaywin First Nation said he valued the lessons about racial profiling and the practical tips on interacting with police. Still, he hopes he doesn't encounter an officer again.

"I remember getting stopped because I wasn't wearing a helmet on my bike," he said. "I was very nervous, very nervous, kind of scared too."

In the radio show, the students ask questions of  First Nations lawyer, Celina Reitberger. The questions are based on the lessons they learned in class from Lakehead University law student Samantha Prescott.

"I learned that some people need to be more careful about what they say to police," said Noelle Chikane, of Weagamow Lake. "She taught us to be more polite so a police officer won't have to assault someone."

Jordyn Johnup of Sachigo Lake First Nation said she'll pass on information she learned to her friends.

"I have a couple of friends who have been to jail and they've never filed a complaint when they were hurt," she said. "So, I could tell them that, give them more information on what their rights are."

Many of the students said police officers in Thunder Bay aren't as "nice" as the officers back home in their communities.

But they also noted shortcomings in the legal system in First Nation communities. For example, civics teacher Sarah Johnson said that when students were told about their right to a have a lawyer present when being questioned by police, they pointed out that lawyers are scarce in remote reserves. 

It was suggested that police officers in First Nations provide people with the toll-free number for on-call legal advice, Johnson said.

Kobe Peters, the chief of the school's student council said it's important for everyone to know about, and participate in, the police complaints process.

"If a police officer does something wrong and no one reports it, that officer will do something wrong again," Peters said. "So I think it's a good idea to report police officers when they do bad things."

Peters said he enjoyed making radio, but others felt shy in front of the microphone and are nervous about how they'll sound on Thursday's broadcast.

"I was shy at first," said Landon Fiddler, of Keewaywin First Nation said. "But I started to open up and let my voice out."