'Racial discrimination' clouded Thunder Bay police investigation into Indigenous woman's death

Christina Gliddy died in hospital in 2016, after being found by a railway bridge in Thunder Bay, Ont. Hers is one of several cases ordered reopened after a probe of alleged systemic racism in the way city police handle missing-person and death cases involving Indigenous people.

Christina Gliddy's case 1 of 9 ordered reopened by Ontario police watchdog

Thea Gliddy holds the Thunder Bay Police report into the death of her sister Christina Gliddy. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

Thunder Bay, Ont., police interviewed the man who said he was with Christina Gliddy on her last night on Earth. 

The man told police the two went to the old train bridge that crosses a river in Thunder Bay. He said he remembered gazing up at Orion's Belt with her, and that they drank mouthwash and had intercourse.

He told police he left her there because she wanted to sit on the tracks a while, according to police reports of the investigation obtained by CBC News.

He said he noticed a group of people approaching her as he left, and that was all he knew.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director released its report into allegations of systemic racism in Thunder Bay on Wednesday and found there was evidence that racism played a role in the way police handled death cases involving Indigenous people.

It has ordered the reopening of Christina Gliddy's case as one of nine that will face a second look. 

The OIPRD found that police failed to follow key leads in Gliddy's case, including the fact the man who told investigators he was with the 28 year-old mother the night before she died had his DNA in an offender database. OIPRD officials would not say whether it was the sexual offender registry.

The OIPRD report also said investigators were told a third person may also have been with Gliddy the night before she died, but never followed up.

The train bridge in Thunder Bay near the spot where Christina Gliddy was found on March 29, 2016. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Police found Gliddy at 8:01 a.m. on March 29, 2016, near death, lying on a black-red-and-white winter jacket that was soaked and starting to freeze on the gravel near the "Danger" sign by the railway bridge.

The 28 year-old mother from Wunnumin Lake First Nation, an Ojibway community that sits about 360 km northeast of Sioux Lookout, Ont., was pronounced dead at 11:49 a.m.

Thunder Bay police closed the case in September 2016. The coroner concluded she died from accidental hypothermia.

The family still has doubts.

"I didn't really believe it because it sounds to me that they rushed into it and closed it up right away," said Gliddy's sister Thea Gliddy, 36. "There have been rumours in Thunder Bay, rumours about somebody murdered her."

2-year OIPRD investigation

The OIPRD's two-year investigation was triggered by a separate police watchdog investigation into the death of a man named Stacy DeBungee, 41, whose body was pulled from the water on Oct. 19, 2015, just upstream from where Gliddy was found.

Thunder Bay police concluded he stumbled into the river and drowned. Police said his death "did not appear suspicious" and they deemed it "non-criminal" before an autopsy was completed.

A private investigator uncovered several possible leads Thunder Bay police failed to follow after a review of the case.

Brad DeBungee, Stacy DeBungee's brother, filed a complaint with the OIPRD saying police ruled out foul play too quickly in Stacy's death.

His complaint alleged there was a pattern of Thunder Bay police declaring the deaths of First Nations people not suspicious within hours of a body being discovered.

'Something more happened'

Gerry McNeilly, the director of OIPRD, said the current investigation included at least 30 cases dating back to the 1990s, nine of which involved missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

CBC News learned earlier this year that Gliddy's case was part of the OIPRD probe.

Diagram of where Christina Gliddy was found by Thunder Bay police. (CBC News)

Thea Gliddy, who lives in Winnipeg, said she is hopeful the OIPRD's report will help bring justice to her sisters case, which she believes was mishandled by Thunder Bay police.

She said she still has questions about the bruising found on her sister's body and why she was found in her socks.

"Her stuff was scattered — that doesn't make sense to me," Thea Gliddy said. "I believe something more happened."

Police found an unopened can of President's Choice cranberry ginger ale in the left pocket of the winter jacket. In the right pocket there was a spoon and a torn and wet piece of paper, a clothing request form from the local shelter.

One of Gliddy's faux suede boots, the right one, was found near an empty mouthwash bottle and a white, knitted tuque with a pom-pom and ear flaps. The other boot was found under the bridge, several metres away, with a black toque.

Her two layers of pyjama pants were wet and pulled down in the back, below her buttocks.

For Indigenous people, 'nothing has changed'

There have been many deaths along this river. The river is technically known as the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway, a channel constructed to protect Thunder Bay's intercity area from flooding.

It is known locally to some as the "River of Tears."

On Nov. 10, 2009, Kyle Morriseau, 17, from Keewaywin First Nation, was pulled dead from the river.

The body of Curran Strang, 18, from Pikangikum First Nation, was pulled from the river on Sept. 22, 2005.

Thunder Bay police concluded both of those deaths were accidental drownings.

Christina Gliddy, left, and her sister Deliliah Ostamus in an undated photo. (Submitted by the Gliddy family)

Both cases were part of a coroner's inquest that investigated the death of seven youths in Thunder Bay. Five of the deaths were the result of drownings in Thunder Bay waterways.

The inquest raised many questions about how Thunder Bay police handled the death investigations of the youth.

In fact, the actions of the Thunder Bay police on cases involving the deaths of Indigenous people have been questioned for over 20 years.

In 1994, a group called the Grassroots Committee compiled a list of "over 30 cases where the Thunder Bay police had unfairly treated Aboriginal people and neglected investigations of the violent deaths of Aboriginal people," according to a report in the Thunder Bay Post at the time.

The Chiefs of Ontario organization, which represents Indigenous interests across the province, called for an investigation into the committee's findings by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat and the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, said the report.

Philip Edwards, who sat on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board as a provincial appointee and was involved in compiling the findings, told CBC News this week that nothing came of it.

"For average Indigenous people, nothing has changed. It has gotten worse in many ways," he said.

Thunder Bay police investigating Gliddy's death never did track down whether there was truth to to the man's statement about the group of people who approached  her as he left, according to case file.

"I got this feeling inside there is something wrong," said Thea Gliddy. "I am still struggling to this day. I promised her when I was in jail, I promised her that I would find out what really happened to her."


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him