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First Nations leaders call for Thunder Bay Police Service to be disbanded

First Nations leaders from northwestern Ontario are calling for the Thunder Bay Police Service to be disbanded and say they are making complaints with Ontario’s Inspector General of Policing to bring in an outside service to investigate recent deaths of Indigenous people in the city. 

This comes after the OPP laid multiple charges against the former police chief and others linked to the force this month. It follows three recent deaths: Mackenzie Moonias, who died in December 2023; Jenna Ostberg, who died in December 2023; and Corey Belesky, who died in 2022. 

Leaders from Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) made their call Monday at Queen’s Park in Toronto and were joined by Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa to discuss “the Thunder Bay Police Service’s long-standing misconduct and systemic failures,” according to a news release issued Friday. 

“The Thunder Bay Police Service has turned into a cold case factory when it comes to investigations into the deaths of Indigenous Peoples,” NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said Monday. “There is a complete lack of trust, everything has broken down.” 

NAN represents 49 First Nations in Treaty 9 and Treaty 5 in northern Ontario, a land mass covering two-thirds of the province. 

Numerous reports and expert panels have documented the Thunder Bay Police Service’s failures to serve Indigenous people in the city, and a 2018 report found systemic racism within the force. 

The police service is under renewed scrutiny after Ontario Provincial Police laid multiple obstruction and breach of trust charges against former police chief Sylvie Hauth and ex-Thunder Bay police lawyer Holly Walbourne earlier this month. In December, OPP also charged Staff Sgt. Michael Dimini with assault, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

WATCH | Thunder Bay Police chief promises reform, but skepticism remains: 

Thunder Bay police chief vows to rebuild public trust

7 days ago

Duration 2:01

The Thunder Bay Police Service vowed to rebuild public trust after charges were filed against a former chief, but some community members and Indigenous leaders say they’re skeptical that the force can reform. 

In response, current police Chief Darcy Fleury said he and the new oversight board are working to move the service forward from the challenges it inherited from previous leadership.

However, Fiddler, Mamakwa and NAN Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said they were disappointed with the response. 

“For years we have expressed serious concerns with the Thunder Bay Police Service and its ability to conduct competent death investigations, even to the point where we had to make a call for the disbandment of the service,” Fiddler and Achneepineskum said in a statement issued last week. 

“Those calls have been ignored, and we are faced with a situation where families who have lost loved ones are left with no recourse because they do not trust the work of the TBPS. 

“There is absolutely no trust whatsoever in the TBPS or its ability to conduct competent investigations into the deaths of Indigenous Peoples.”

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