Thunder Bay·Audio

Images of security, city staff photographing 2 men sleeping on Thunder Bay, Ont., bench spark outrage

Images circulating on social media that appear to show transit workers and a security guard taking photos of two men sleeping on a bench outside city hall have sparked outrage in Thunder Bay, Ont. The city is now investigating.

City confirms a 'thorough and complete' investigation is underway

Photos shared on social media Thursday evening show a security worker at city hall taking photos of two men sleeping on a bench in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Submitted by Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace)

The City of Thunder Bay is investigating after social media images that appear to show a security guard taking photos of two men sleeping on a bench at the city hall transit terminal have sparked outrage.

Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace took the photos Thursday evening after she and her seven-year-old son paid their transit fares and were waiting on the bus to go home.

From the window, they watched as a transit operator walked over to two men who appeared to be Indigenous and were sleeping on the bench.

"I saw him pulling his phone out, and I thought he was going to call S.O.S. or do something," Shawanamash-Ignace recalled.

"That's when my son told me, 'Mom, he's taking pictures.'"

Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace says her seven-year-old son kept asking her why the individuals standing in a circle, alongside a fifth person who appears to be taking a photo in the picture above, were not helping the two men. (Submitted by Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace)

A number of programs in the city, including the Shelter House Street Outreach Service (S.O.S.), take calls for help, and provide support to people experiencing homelessness, are intoxicated or otherwise appear to be at risk of harm.

Instead, the transit operator called other drivers over, as well as a security guard, and several of them took photos, according to Shawanamash-Ignace.

Her son no longer wants to go on bus

Shawanamash-Ignace said she watched her son's spirit crumble as they waited nearly 10 minutes on the bus.

At his preschool graduation a couple of years earlier, she said, her son proudly told his class he wanted to be a bus driver when he grew up. He even dressed up as a city bus for Halloween.

Now, Shawanamash-Ignace said her son no longer wants to take a bus ride.

He just keeps asking, 'Why didn't they help?' ​​- Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace, about son's response to transit terminal incident

"He doesn't ever want to go through anything like that either, and he's really scared that it will happen because he's Indigenous … seeing that changed something for him."

On Friday morning, the family was preparing to have a conversation about the incident and racism in Thunder Bay. 

"He just keeps asking, 'Why didn't they help? Why didn't they help?' And I don't have a good enough answer."

Extra transit security after aggressive behaviour

In a news release Friday afternoon, the city said it's investigating "a security staff interaction with patrons at the City Hall transit terminal and the conduct of everyone involved."

The release said Thunder Bay Transit recently hired additional security for the terminal after "increased incidents of aggressive behaviour was being reported by transit drivers."

Photos are occasionally taken to help identify individuals accused of aggressive behaviour and if a trespass notice needs to be issued, the city said.

"The City of Thunder Bay takes these circumstances seriously," city manager Norm Gale said in an interview with CBC. "We are committed to protecting the safety and wellness of our employees, of the people who use our services, and people in the city. And that's very important, so the investigation will be thorough and complete."

Asked if the results of the investigation would be made public, Gale said: "I can't say for certain now. There are aspects of this investigation that will remain confidential, but for example, if a new procedure is in place as a result of the investigation, that is something we would comment on publicly."

Accountability demanded from the city

Shawanamash-Ignace's Facebook post with the transit terminal images were shared nearly 1,000 times by Friday afternoon.

Chris Moonias, former chief of Neskantaga First Nation, commented: "Where is the reconciliation the city talks about. These are representatives of the city."

Many social media users asked for accountability, saying municipal employees must be held to a high standard. Others said they weren't surprised the two men who appeared to be Indigenous were treated that way.

Shawanamash-Ignace said the culture must change.

"Somebody [has] to take responsibility for their actions."

Listen to the full interview with Tatjana Shawanamash-Ignace on CBC's Superior Morning here:

Photos taken last week outside the city hall bus terminal in Thunder Bay are sparking outrage. They show security staff taking pictures of two men slumped over a bench. Hear from the woman who took those photos. 7:27