River Deaths Attracting National Attention

“Teen deaths, police probes, racism accusations: What’s going on in Thunder Bay?” –  CTV News.

On Wednesday May 31st,  Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard, along with Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, called for the RCMP to investigate the deaths of Tammy Keeash, 17, who was living in a group home and found dead in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on May 7; Josiah Begg, 14, who was found dead in the McIntyre River on May 18; and Stacy DeBungee, who was found dead in the McIntyre River on Oct. 19, 2015, and whose death was immediately declared accidental by Thunder Bay police before conducting any serious investigation.

The three First Nation leaders said they have no confidence in the Thunder Bay Police—whose Chief, J.P. Levesque, is currently facing criminal charges (breach of trust and obstructing justice) while the service is under an investigation for systemic racism—to conduct proper investigations. The First Nation Chiefs said they also do not trust the Ontario Provincial Police.

Falconers LLP lawyer, Julian Falconer, has raised the possibility of foul play behind some of these deaths, and raised the need for proper, creditable investigations to be conducted into their deaths. The prospect of foul play is additionally heightened by two separate cases of Indigenous men who were attacked and thrown into a city waterway, but managed to survive.

“It is obvious that sadly one of the reasonable possibilities in some of these cases is that vulnerable folks who are near the water and who may not be in a position to defend themselves are vulnerable to being rolled into the water,” said Falconer, in an interview Thursday. “In my opinion, one of the distinct, reasonable, rational possibilities that what is going on around the river deaths is that, in at least some of these cases, there is a strain of racist, vicious thugs who find tossing indigenous people in the river fair sport.”

Falconer pointed to his cross- examination of forensic pathologist Dr. Toby Rose during the coroner’s inquest into the death of seven Indigenous young people as more evidence that supported the possibility that foul play was involved in some of the deaths. During the cross-examination, according to the transcript, Rose said, “forensic pathology cannot distinguish based on pathology findings between drownings that occur by accident, as a result of suicide or by someone else by homicide.”

Falconer said this raises troubling questions. “It doesn’t matter where you look, the ugly truth has to be confronted,” said Falconer. “There has to be a reasonable possibility that some of these deaths are by brutal, racist thugs who consider tossing an Indigenous person in the river to be an entertaining exercise.”

Recent News

Chiefs demand answers on Thunder Bay river deaths   Toronto Star, June 6, 2017

OPP Commissioner Hawkes Statement on Thunder Bay Issues   Newnewsledger, June 6, 2017

OPP role in investigating occurrences in other jurisdictions   SaultOnline, June 6, 2017

Indigenous group calls for surveillance cameras along Thunder Bay waterways   Sudbury.com, June 6, 2017

OPP refutes claim it refused to probe Stacy DeBungee’s death   TBNewsWatch, June 6, 2017

Security, surveillance discussed at Thunder Bay city hall   CBC, June 6, 2017

In the News

Teen deaths, police probes, racism accusations: What’s going on in Thunder Bay?   May 31, 2017, CTV News

Statement by Thunder Bay Police Board   May 31, 2017

Ontario exploring ‘options’ for Thunder Bay policing crisis triggered by suspected botched probes into water deaths, June 1, 2017, APTN News

Account of 2008 attack in Thunder Bay   June 1, 2017, APTN News

Emotional Prayer Walk Gathers Community Together   NewNewsLedger, June 2, 2017

Bay police need outside help to solve deaths of Indigenous youth   Toronto Star, June 5, 2017

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