Police, coroner push forward with new investigations into 9 Indigenous deaths in Thunder Bay
Terms of reference released at Tuesday's meeting of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board
Thunder Bay police and the Ontario chief coroner's office are pushing ahead with new investigations into nine Indigenous deaths in the city, and the results could have implications for similar investigations throughout the province.
The new investigations were announced earlier this year, after the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) recommended them in its report on systemic racism within the Thunder Bay Police Service.
Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer, who sits on the executive governance committee that will oversee the investigations, said work on the new investigations has already begun, and is being led by retired OPP detective superintendent Ken Leppert.
"He's bringing together a team of Thunder Bay Police Service investigators, as well as Nishnawbe Aski Nation Police Service representatives, and they're going to look at each of these deaths, starting fresh," Huyer said at Tuesday's Thunder Bay Police Services Board meeting.
"That will include, primarily, at the start, reaching out to the families, to understand additional questions the families may have, other areas that they feel have not been explored, and then that will set the stage for what investigation needs to occur," he said. "We can't predict where they'll go, but the purpose is to have the best answers, to the highest quality, that we can get to fully understand these deaths for the families, the communities."
On Tuesday, the terms of reference for the new investigations was released. The multi-agency, multi-disciplinary team will examine the deaths of:
- Christine Gliddy
- Shania Bob
- Marie Spence
- Aaron Loon
- Sara Moonias
- Jethro Anderson
- Curran Strang
- Kyle Morrisseau
- Jordan Wabasse
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, who also sits on the executive governance committee, said he isn't sure if all the families of the deceased individuals will want to participate.
"I hope they do," he said. "I know some of these families personally, and I know they've suffered for a long time. And this may be the last opportunity for them to get the answers they've been looking for for a long time now."
Fiddler said participating families will be offered language and mental health supports to help with the process.
"They're in different places on their own journeys, and it's very difficult to say this will help heal them, or bring closure," he said. "I'm not sure there's such a thing as closure."
Huyer said the focus of the investigations is to better understand the circumstances of the nine deaths. However, he said there could be wider implications, as well.
"We're hoping that [the process] also will allow reflection, and potential changes, to the approaches to investigations that occur within Thunder Bay, and potentially across the province," he said. "And, hopefully, increasing the public confidence in the approach and the work that the Thunder Bay Police Service do in the community."
The goal is to have the investigations complete by July 2020.