Thunder Bay police unlawfully arrested First Nations man: provincial watchdog

A police service currently facing a systemic racism investigation unlawfully arrested a First Nations man who happened to be carrying the wrong brand of coffee cup at the wrong time, according to Ontario's provincial police watchdog.

Thunder Bay police initially absolved the officers of wrongdoing following internal probe

Samuel Pervais was wrongfully arrested in Thunder Bay for having the wrong coffee cup at the wrong time. (Facebook)

A police service currently facing a systemic racism investigation unlawfully arrested a First Nations man who happened to be carrying the wrong brand of coffee cup at the wrong time, according to Ontario's provincial police watchdog.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) released its decision on May 24 substantiating Samuel Pervais's complaint over his Jan. 21, 2017, arrest by Thunder Bay police.

Pervais, a member of Fort William First Nation, was walking nearby with a Robin's Donuts coffee cup shortly after police received a complaint from the coffee shop.

Two Thunder Bay police officers arrested and handcuffed Pervais even though he did not match the description of a suspect given to the 911 dispatcher.

The OIPRD concluded that Thunder Bay police did not have a legal basis to arrest Pervais, according to the decision by Sylvana Capogreco, OIPRD deputy director.

Capogreco also found that the misconduct was "of a less serious nature."

Ontario's Independent Police Review Director, Gerry McNeilly, launched a systemic racism investigation of Thunder Bay police in November 2016. (Canadian Press)

The OIPRD is currently reviewing dozens of Thunder Bay police cases dating back to 1990 as part of a sweeping investigation into allegations of systemic racism against Indigenous Peoples.

Sen. Murray Sinclair is also leading an Ontario Civilian Police Commission investigation of the Thunder Bay police board.

Pervais said he wants an apology from police for the "trauma" the incident caused him.

"I didn't ask for it. I was walking down the street being a common person," said Pervais in an interview with CBC News.

"Maybe I was racially profiled; I don't know what goes on in their heads."

Thunder Bay police said it doesn't "comment on any ongoing complaints."

Server called police

The incident unfolded after a server at Robin's Donuts called 911 that Saturday morning to complain about a regular customer who had "flipped out at her." The server called 911 to ask police to give the customer a no-trespassing notice to prevent him from returning.

The server described the customer as being in his 50s and wearing a baseball cap, old pants and a jean shirt.

Pervais, who was walking near the coffee shop with a Robin's Donuts coffee cup, said he never wears a ball cap and had a jacket on that day.

Written findings of the watchdog said that two officers, Const. Matt Hanchuck and Const. Ken Ogima, responded to the call separately.

Hanchuck noticed Pervais walking with the Robin's cup and moved to intercept him. Pervais, who was on his way to an appointment, said in an interview with CBC News he was surprised by the aggressiveness of the officer who used his cruiser to block his path.

The report said that Pervais refused to give his name and co-operate. Hanchuck then called Ogima, who was at the Robin's shop, to say he had the suspect and that he was being unco-operative.

Pervais was then cuffed and put in a cruiser and taken to the Robin's shop where the server told the officers they had the wrong guy.

​Pervais, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was then hit by a panic attack and taken to hospital by ambulance.

Thunder Bay police absolved officers

The Thunder Bay police's own internal investigation absolved the two officers of any wrongdoing. It determined the two officers had grounds to arrest Pervais, who initially refused to co-operate and identify himself, under the provincial Trespass and Property Act.

"If you make a mistake, own up to it instead of trying to cover it up with the Trespass Act," said Pervais.

The OIPRD has given the Thunder Bay police three options: resolve the matter informally with Pervais and the two officers, deal with it through an informal disciplinary process or take it to a hearing.

About the Author

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