New Leaked Report is just the Tip of the Iceberg: Reflecting on the Systemic Failures of the Thunder Bay Police Service

In addition to a Report-back that was made available in the last week, a second report was leaked to CBC news this week, identifying a plethora of systemic failures in the way the Thunder Bay Police Service (“TBPS”) conducts sudden death investigations of Indigenous peoples in Thunder Bay.

It is unfortunate, though not unsurprising, to see that the leaked report confirms that investigators have identified at least 16 additional cases that should be reinvestigated. These deaths are in addition to the nine at the heart of the Broken Trust report. These sixteen deaths that need to be reinvestigated are representative of ten additional cases that warrant further investigation into the manner of death, four addendum cases that were not originally shared with the members participating in the Broken Trust reinvestigation process, and two cases that are being recommended for Coroner review, including one case concerning a vulnerable missing person, and one case representing a fatal drug overdose.

Further, the leaked report identifies several outstanding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (“MMIWG”) files that the TBPS failed to properly investigate. The TBPS confirmed that there are currently 25 MMIWG unsolved cases sitting with the TBPS Criminal Investigation Branch, with some dating back prior to 2000 and have remained unresolved for over 20 years.

The failures of the TBPS are underscored in the recommendations identified at the conclusion of the leaked report, particularly recommendation #4, which states:

“As observed by the [Blended Investigative Team], there appears to be a high volume of inconsistent classifications of sudden investigations, inconsistent records management, poor documentation of records and concerning cases that may require additional review, however are not part of the TOR guidelines, therefore an external audit of the TBPS RMS as it relates to death investigations take place.”

This is shameful to see; the Record Management System (“RMS”) is the heart of a police service and how they collect and classify data. The fact that there appears to be an undetermined amount of death investigations and problems stemming from how the TBPS utilize their record management system really underscores that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The leaked report concludes that due to limited time and resources to complete this review, it should be viewed solely as a ‘snapshot’ into the Thunder Bay RMS. This snapshot emphasizes the pervasive rot and systemic problems rooted in how the TBPS conduct their business.

In 2019, Thunder Bay mayor, Bill Mauro, criticized the December 2018 reports by the OIPRD and Sen. Murray Sinclair, saying that these two reports wrongly brought negative national media attention to the city of Thunder Bay, and that: “The two reports that came down… didn’t help the city of Thunder Bay in terms of its reputation… and I can tell you it drives me crazy having to listen and fight back against the perception of our community that’s being created on the national stage, not only because of, but largely because of those two reports.”

It is shameful that in 2022, we reflect on Mayor Bill Mauro’s comments with the understanding that the TBPS remains the same. In fact, we argue that despite the recommendations, and despite the reinvestigations, though both hugely and critically important to the families of those whose deaths were blatantly disregarded, we are only now learning of how pervasive the problems of the TBPS really are. We strongly believe that further systemic issues of the TBPS will come to light, and there is an urgent need for action to be taken. For the city of Thunder Bay, and for the Indigenous peoples in Thunder Bay, who for too long have inexplicitly been told your lives do not matter.

For more on this topic, see:

APTN News (March 7, 2022), Video Interview with Julian Falconer: “Lawyer shares thoughts on report calling for re-investigates into sudden deaths.”

APTN News (March 7, 2022), Taskforce calls on police to reinvestigate 14 deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.

CBC News (March 8, 2022), 14 sudden death cases of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, Ont., recommended for police reinvestigation

CBC News (May 15m 2019), Thunder Bay mayor Bill Mauro blasts police reports during town hall

Globe and Mail (March 8, 2022), Indigenous leader calls for dismantling of Thunder Bay police

Globe and Mail (March 8, 2022), Sudden deaths of 15 Indigenous people in Thunder Bay require further action, report on police service says

Additional Death Cases Warranting Further Investigation – Submitted by Blended Investigative Team – February 2022

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