Thunder Bay

Police review director still doing interviews, not probing more cases, in Thunder Bay police review

Ontario's Independent Police Review Director says he's still doing interviews in the wake of last month's public meeting in Thunder Bay on police-Indigenous relations, but no more death investigations are likely to be added to his review.

Gerry McNeilly says he intends to have all necessary information for systemic review of city police by Dec.

Gerry McNeilly is Ontario's Independent Police Review Director. (Canadian Press)

Ontario's Independent Police Review Director says he's still doing interviews in the wake of last month's public meeting in Thunder Bay on police-Indigenous relations, but no more death investigations are likely to be added to his probe.

Since November, 2016, the civilian police oversight body has been conducting a systemic review of the way Thunder Bay police investigate the deaths of Indigenous people. Director Gerry McNeilly said he's getting close to having the information he needs.

"I would like to put a timeline on that to say by the end of November, I will hope to stop collecting feedback," he said. "So we can continue with putting a great emphasis on writing that report and making my recommendations so that I can have it out by the end of the winter."

The probe has included reviews of 30 death investigations and nine cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women that were handled by city police, in addition to numerous interviews with individuals, First Nations leaders and organizations, community groups and members of the police and its services board.

The cases being scrutinized included the deaths of seven First Nations students that were the subject of a months-long inquest in the northwestern Ontario city, as well as the deaths of two Indigenous teenagers, Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg, in May, 2017.
The death of Josiah Begg, 14, is one of the cases that's being reviewed by Ontario's Independent Police Review Director. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The review does not include the investigation into the death of 21-year-old Dylan Moonias, whose body was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway just two days before the police review director's public meeting in September, McNeilly's office confirmed. A spokesperson said that's because of the large number of cases already being examined.

McNeilly has said his probe isn't reinvestigating cases themselves, rather it's examining documents and interviewing officers to determine whether the same steps are being followed, regardless of the background of the person whose death or disappearance is being investigated.

Thunder Bay police confirmed on Friday that Moonias's death is still being investigated. Unlike after the deaths of Keeash and Begg, Ontario's chief coroner also hasn't requested another police service's involvement in Moonias's case, although Dirk Huyer has said he's closely monitoring it.

City police said no other police service is assisting in the investigation.

McNeilly said he still plans to have his report on his systemic review done — and its recommendations compiled — by spring, 2018. He added that he doesn't plan to hold another public meeting like the one in September.

"What I heard clearly ... is that people were asking for a continuation of the discussion [on racism] and I think the city of Thunder Bay, the officials at city hall, need to take up this mantle," he said, adding that the purpose of his meeting was focussed specifically on police conduct.

More interviews planned

After the September meeting, McNeilly said he and his staff spent three more days in Thunder Bay interviewing people who approached him after the forum, wanting to talk further about the review. He added that he's still following up on those.

"Some Indigenous parents ... and some others from Indigenous organizations," he said of some of the inquiries he's had. "I also still have some interviews to do with members of the police services — police officers."
An estimated over-250 people packed a meeting room at the Da Vinci Centre in Thunder Bay in September for a public meeting. The forum was part of the ongoing probe of allegations of systemic racism in Thunder Bay police. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

One suggestion that came from the crowd at the public meeting was that McNeilly and his staff speak to clients of shelters in the city. In a subsequent interview with CBC News, McNeilly said his staff has made themselves available; when they visited, McNeilly said "we had some interaction but not a lot."

Still, he continued, it's something he wants to attempt again.

"I'm just trying to find out how I can best do that to ensure that I get some feedback — not that I can force anyone to come and talk to me," he said.

"But I want to go ... and make sure that it's a fruitful encounter."

With files from Cathy Alex and Jody Porter