Ontario: First Nations File Human Rights Complaint Against Thunder Bay Police Services

Namaygoosisagagun, Eabametoong and Nibinamik First Nations supported by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and other First Nation organizations frustrated with the mistreatment and systemic racism in policing services by the Thunder Bay Police Service are filing a Human Rights application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The application is being led by Namaygoosisagagun Chief Helen Angela Paavola, Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harry Papah and Nibinamik First Nation Chief Johnny Yellowhead and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. The application is a result of a human rights violation that was committed by members of the Thunder Bay Police Service in their conduct during a police investigation into the murder of a First Nations individual in Thunder Bay earlier this month.

The incident that sparked the application began with a Thunder Bay Police Service News Release accidently sent to members of the Thunder Bay media on September 1, 2012 containing virulent and demeaning stereotypes about First Nations people. A second news release was sent seconds later saying the first news release was sent in error.

“Speaking with the family members of the deceased Adam Yellowhead, they were really disappointed but not totally surprised by this incident they heard about through the media,” said Chief Paavola. “It’s inappropriate and I am glad that we are doing something about this. The police have been getting away with this for too long.”

Thunder Bay Police Chief J.P. Levesque said the first email was inappropriate, and there would be an internal disciplinary investigation and that by no means was this email “a racial issue.” Nonetheless, as a result of this widespread news release, the claimants of the human rights application and the First Nation communities they represent have suffered humiliation, a loss of respect and dignity and this incident has further eroded the confidence in the Thunder Bay Police Service to deliver equal and fair services to First Nations people.

“Whether the police say this is racial or not, its callous, cold and unprofessional and treats the victim and his family with disrespect. This is not how a police organization should be run,” said Chief Yellowhead.

Chief Papah added, “We are stating that the distribution of the news release constitutes a denial of our rights to equal treatment with respect to services without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, place of origin and ethnic origin contrary to Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. And most importantly, the Thunder Bay Police Chief and Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, a member of the Police Services Board, both denied publicly any racial stereotyping before any complete investigation was conducted. This has completely tainted any idea for a fair internal investigation.”

“After receiving numerous complaints over the years of the misconduct of the Thunder Bay Police, this latest incident was the tipping point for the First Nation communities to file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal,” said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Fiddler. “First Nations Chiefs and First Nations organizations in Thunder Bay are frustrated by the irresponsibility of members of the police force over the years and this latest incident is a clear example that serious steps must be taken.”

Namaygoosisagagun Chief Helen Angela Paavola, Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harry Papah, Nibinamik First Nation Chief Johnny Yellowhead and Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler along with Northern Nishnawbe Education Council (NNEC), The Thunder Bay Friendship Centre, Matawa Tribal Council and legal counsel Julian Falconer will be present and making statements.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a political territorial organization representing 49 First Nation communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5 – an area covering two thirds of the province of Ontario in Canada.

Map location of Thunder Bay, Ontario

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