Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

'We want to lift that cloud': Thunder Bay officials talk student safety at provincial conference

Officials with the City of Thunder Bay have returned from the 2017 Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, where one central topic was how to ensure the safety of Indigenous students in the city.

Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference ran Aug. 14-16

Municipal officials in Thunder Bay say they raised the issue of Indigenous student safety with provincial representatives at the 2017 AMO conference. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

A delegation from the City of Thunder Bay has returned from the 2017 Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference, where one major topic raised by municipal officials was how to ensure the safety of Indigenous students in the city.

The annual conference allows municipal representatives to meet with provincial ministers, parliamentary assistants and members of the opposition.

One topic the city raised with the province stemmed from a request by Nishnawbe Aski Nation in June to increase surveillance along Thunder Bay's waterways, Coun. Joe Virdiramo told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning.

"We feel that that's something we can take a look at," Virdiramo said, adding that he spoke to Michael Coteau, Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services about NAN's request, which calls for better lighting as well as surveillance cameras along inner-city rivers.

"The point I made to him was that this is not just a Thunder Bay issue, this is a national issue in relation to racism and dealing with all these issues," Virdiramo said, adding that both parties wanted to know if the other was willing to "come to the table," to help finance it.

"I was quite cautiously optimistic," he said, adding that the city has estimated enhanced river surveillance could cost between $1.2 and $1.5 million.

Thunder Bay's rivers have been where the bodies of seven Indigenous young people have been found since 2000.

The two most recent deaths — those of Tammy Keeash, 17, from North Caribou Lake First Nation and Josiah Begg, 14, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug — happened in the spring.

In addition, Virdiramo said, city officials are also seeking support for programs to address racism and reach out to Indigenous people.

"I know we have a cloud over us in relation to these kinds of issues," he said. "We want to lift that cloud and we want Thunder Bay to be the city with the best practices in dealing with this but we can't do it alone."