Thunder Bay Police Watchdog To Review Disappearances Of 2 Indigenous Teens
CP | By The Canadian Press
Posted: 05/21/2017 2:50 pm EDT Updated: 05/24/2017 8:55 am EDT
THUNDER BAY, Ont. — A police watchdog will include the recent cases of two teens in its systemic review of how the Thunder Bay Police Service investigates the deaths and disappearances of indigenous people.
The body of 17-year-old Tammy Keeash from North Caribou Lake First Nation was discovered, drowned, in the Neebing McIntyre floodway on May 8. She was in care in a group home in Thunder Bay.
And 14-year-old Josiah Begg of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation disappeared two days earlier.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says a body discovered in the McIntyre River is believed to be that of Begg, but police have not yet confirmed that account and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Josiah Begg, 14, left, and Tammy Keeash, 17, right, disappeared on separate days in May 2017. (Photo: Handout/CP)
In an email, a representative for the Office of the Independent Police Review Director confirmed that the agency is asking the Thunder Bay police for Keeash's and Begg's case files as part of its review of the force's practices in policing indigenous people.
Alarming questions were raised, says director
When the review was launched last year, the agency's director said that alarming questions were raised about the way Thunder Bay police have investigated the disappearances and deaths of indigenous people in the community.
"Indigenous leaders and community members say that these investigations, and other interactions with police, devalue indigenous lives, reflect differential treatment and are based on racist attitudes and/or stereotypical preconceptions about the indigenous community,'' Gerry McNeilly said in a news release at the time."It is critical that these issues be independently examined through a systemic review, which would enable me to effectively address the issues and make meaningful recommendations for improvement.''
The indigenous teen who escaped death in a Thunder Bay river
Eight years ago, Darryl Kakekayash says he was assaulted by three white men who hurled racial epithets and tossed him in a river.
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Darryl Kakekayash points to the spot in Thunder Bay where he says he was assaulted by three men and tossed in a river in 2008.
By: Staff Torstar News Service Published on Thu Nov 24 2016
Eight years ago, Darryl Kakekayash says he was physically assaulted by three white men who called the high school student a “crazy native s---” and threw him into a Thunder Bay river.
The incident had an eerie resemblance to the deaths of five male students whose bodies were found in the waters surrounding Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2011.
Kakekayash’s story was never publicly told during the eight-month coroner’s inquest into the deaths of seven students who were attending school in Thunder Bay because there were no high schools in their northern First Nation communities.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto tried to bring Kakekayash’s story to the inquest, but he never took the stand. Instead, lawyers agreed to a statement of facts about what happened to Kakekayash that night.
With no answer as to how the five students wound up in the rivers, a pall has been cast over the case, leaving the parents of Jordan Wabasse, Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Reggie Bushie and Kyle Morrisseau without an explanation of why their sons drowned. Two other students did not die in water. Robyn Harper died after being left alone, intoxicated and passed out in the doorway of her boarding house. Paul Panacheese’s death was ruled medically “undetermined;” he died on his mother’s kitchen floor.
Chantelle Bryson, lawyer for the Ontario child advocate’s office, said on Wednesday that her client, along with the office’s Feathers of Hope campaign — an advisory council of nearly 200 indigenous youth who meet to discuss issues such as justice — wanted Kakekayash to tell his story at the inquest. Many indigenous teens have experienced incidents of racism in Thunder Bay, such as having eggs thrown at them from passing cars.
“The coroner’s counsel has the ability to add witnesses to the list,” she said. “After that, people may object to certain witnesses or they may request that certain witnesses be added. In this case, that request was not granted.”
Bryson said Kakekayash, now 25, was willing to testify. “He wanted to hopefully protect other kids.”
The lawyers believed what happened to Kakekayash could help explain how the five boys ended up in the water.
“It was really important to examine all potentials. Especially violence,” Bryson said. “There had been evidence of violence and racial violence throughout the inquest, either by peers or strangers or by gangs, either related to the deaths or just to students. But we felt Darryl’s story was so poignant due to the parallels around the deceased five.”
Bryson and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation lawyers had Kakekayash swear an affidavit to former Toronto homicide detective Dave Perry, who had acted as lead investigator in the abduction and murder cases of Holly Jones, 10, and Cecilia Zhang, 9.
Perry retired as a detective sergeant and is now in private practice. He is a frequent lecturer and an investigative consultant, often working with forensic psychologists and criminal profilers.
Perry investigated Kakekayash’s story and made a considered professional opinion. Perry believes him.
“It is my opinion Mr. Kakekayash told the truth about his assault. That his assault was racially motivated… That this assault could be classified as a hate crime,” Perry wrote in his report, which was entered in court and obtained by Torstar.
“Mr. Kakekayash told me that when he was in the river, he started to believe that he was about to die. Given the violent and racial (sic) charged actions of the suspects and the level of assault as described above, I find it reasonable to believe that this assault was in fact an attempt (sic) murder,” Perry wrote.
The inquest concluded at the end of June, making 145 recommendations, most of which are waiting to be implemented, including a safety audit along the shoreline of the Thunder Bay rivers.
Darryl Kakekayash grew up in Weagamow, or North Caribou Lake First Nation, a 45-minute plane ride north of Sioux Lookout. The remote community lies deep in the northern boreal forest and is accessible only by ice road or small plane.
First, Kakekayash went to high school in Sault Ste. Marie.
In 2007-08, he transferred to Thunder Bay, where he attended Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School for indigenous youth from the Sioux Lookout district, run by the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council.
On Oct. 28, 2008, two months after the start of the school year, Kakekayash went to see Alvin and the Chipmunks at the theatres near Thunder Bay’s Intercity Shopping Centre.
When it ended, he was afraid he would be late for the midnight curfew at his boarding home. He took a shortcut, beetling through a golf course by the Neebing-McIntyre River. Along the riverbank, he ran into three white men who asked him for a cigarette.
They asked if he was a member of the Native Syndicate because he was wearing that gang’s colours, white and black. Kakekayash said he wasn’t part of a gang. The men demanded to see his arms to check if he had tattoos. Kakekayash refused.
Suddenly, the men began punching, hitting and kicking Kakekayash. One ran at him with a two-by-four and hit him across the back. Kakekayash fell and another man kicked him in the stomach. As they were beating him, they yelled racial slurs.
Then they threw him into the ice-cold river. But they weren’t done. They hauled him out, beat him some more, then threw him back in.
“It was fall time… Halloween was coming around and I remember that the water was shiny reflection, like it was kind of icy… when they threw me, it was so cold, my whole body went into shock,” Kakekayash said in his interview with Perry.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is it. This is it… Nobody, nobody, nobody hearing us, nobody hearing me,’ the only chance that would pop into my mind was to get to the other side… get up and start running for it, that was my intention… I swam at first, ’cause my back hurt, the water up to my belly button, I was able to stand up. I was halfway to the other side, my shoes were stuck,” he recalls.
“The ground was slimy. It wasn’t sand or anything but your whole foot would go in… when I stood on two feet, I couldn’t get my feet out, the ground was so strong, I let go of my shoes, I left my shoes there. I remember getting up to the grass, on my belly, I was scratching and crawling getting up as fast as I could, crawling up…” he said.
Shoeless, Kakekayash ran to the road, where he tried to flag down some cars. No one stopped. Then he saw an out-of-service Thunder Bay bus. He stood in the middle of the lane, waved his arms to stop the driver.
Kakekayash begged the driver not to call the police. Kakekayash was petrified that if he reported what happened, somehow the three men would come looking for him.
“I was so scared in that bus, I was nearly crying,” he recalled.
The next day he told the school principal what had happened. The principal told him he needed to tell the police.
When he reported the incident, Kakekayash said police told him that they would get right on the case. But it would be years until he actually spoke to police again.
Kakekayash’s mother flew to Thunder Bay to take her son home. He never went back to complete high school.
No one has ever been caught or charged for the assault.“Darryl lost his opportunity for a secondary education,” said Bryson.
Deaths of four aboriginal youths in Thunder Bay, Ont., undetermined: jury
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2016 11:29AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2016 2:14PM EDT
The deaths of four young aboriginals who moved from their remote northern Ontario reserves to attend high school in Thunder Bay, Ont., occurred in an undetermined manner, an inquest jury decided Tuesday.
Three other deaths examined at the months-long inquest were deemed accidental, the packed courtroom heard.
Jethro Anderson, 15, Curran Strang, 18, Robyn Harper, 19, Paul Panacheese, 21, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morrisseau, 17 and Jordan Wabasse, also 15, all died between November 2000 and May 2011.
“All seven were beloved children who died tragically and prematurely and lost the opportunity to lead their own lives, raise their own families and make their own valuable contribution,” said presiding coroner, Dr. David Eden.
The death of Panacheese, who collapsed at his boarding house, was found to be undetermined. Harper was found dead of acute alcohol poisoning at her boarding home the morning after she went out drinking with friends. She had been in the city just two days. Her death was ruled an accident.
The drowned bodies of the other five were all found in or near rivers in the city. In four of the drowning cases, alcohol played a role.
The deaths of Anderson, Morrisseau and Wabasse were deemed undetermined — meaning jurors could not decide how they got into the rivers — while those of Strang and Bushie were ruled accidental.
Julian Falconer, lawyer for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation from whose communities the young people came, called the verdicts related to some of those who drowned significant.
“‘Undetermined’ in respect of three of five of the drowning deaths sends a clear message that the police investigations were deeply flawed,” Falconer said. “Consequently, tragically, there is no way to rule out that these kids were deliberately killed.”
Jurors called for development of policies on dealing with missing students, including the timely filing of missing-person reports, the use of social media in subsequent searches, and training for Thunder Bay police in investigating such cases.
Lawyer Brian Gover, who represented the police, said it’s easy to be critical in hindsight but noted the service had already made many improvements in its processes.
“The cases took place over 11 years, and in the course of those 11 years, the Thunder Bay Police Service adapted its response to the problem of missing First Nation youths,” Gover said.
In all, jurors made 145 recommendations in 18 broad areas aimed at preventing a recurrence — most directed at the federal and Ontario governments. They include a call for more funding for aboriginal education with the aim of closing the gap between native and non-native students regarding educational outcomes within 10 years.
“To ensure sufficient and stable funding for First Nations education, Canada and First Nations should jointly develop a new and fully transparent funding framework for First Nations education that is based on actual student needs,” jurors recommended.
Other recommendations were aimed at ensuring aboriginal students receive proper supports while at high school in Thunder Bay, including access to substance-abuse treatment and programs. Jurors also called for an end to “runners,” people who buy alcohol for under-age drinkers.
The five jurors also recommended educating students on the UN Declaration of the Rights of a Child and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They essentially adopted several of the TRC’s recommendations, among them enhancing aboriginal content in the school curriculum.
Reports on the recommendations should happen annually until all have been implemented or rejected, jurors said.
Several in the courtroom applauded after jurors signed off on their decision.
Six of the seven youths went to Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, while the seventh attended the Matawa Learning Centre.
The inquest, which began last October, heard from about 150 witnesses.
“There remains much work for all of us to do to ensure indigenous people are treated fairly and with respect for their culture and traditions,” Eden said.Ontario’s chief coroner had initially called an inquest into Bushie’s death. Like some of the others, he was found drowned in the McIntyre River in 2007. However, the process ground to a halt in 2008 due in part to a legal challenge related to the lack of aboriginal people on coroner’s juries that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
To have so many children die in the same way is troubling especially with the testimony of one person who survived to tell his story. Darryl Kakekayash's story may indicate why so many children are ending up in the river.
First Nation’s family rejects Thunder Bay Police explanation for teen’s death
Police say Tammy Keeash, 17, drown but family says she was a trained Junior Canadian Ranger and familiar with water safety.
The body of Tammy Keeash, 17, was discovered May 7, 2017 in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway in Thunder Bay. She was living in a Thunder Bay group home. (FACEBOOK)
By TANYA TALAGAStaff Reporter
Wed., May 17, 2017
The family of Tammy Keeash and northern Ontario First Nations leaders say they are rejecting the premise of the Thunder Bay Police Service that the 17-year-old drowned in a river nearly 10 days ago.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” said Pearl Slipperjack, Keeash’s mother, as she spoke to the media at a Thunder Bay press conference on Wednesday. Slipperjack said she also lost her young son in 2010 while he was in care.
Keeash, who is from the remote North Caribou First Nation, was a trained Junior Canadian Ranger, well familiar with water safety and the land. She was a “troubled kid,” living in a group home in Thunder Bay while she received counselling in the city, said Slipperjack who cried that she regretted she did not fight harder to get her children back from provincial care.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Keeash’s death and everyone is having a hard time accepting the conclusion put forward by Thunder Bay Police that “it was simply a drowning,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “She knew the waters, she knew something about water safety and how to navigate the land. It was the way she was brought up. The family is asking more questions on what led to Tammy’s death.”
The press conference also addressed the disappearance of Josiah Begg, 14, who hasn’t been seen since Saturday, May 6, the same day that Keeash missed the curfew at her group home. Begg was in town with his father for medical appointments from their home in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. The community is upset with the Thunder Bay Police response to the case. His mother, Sunshine Winter, made a tearful plea for her son to come home. “Josiah, if you can hear this, we want you to come back,” Winter said.
James Cutfeet, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation chief said by continually forcing indigenous people out of their homes for mental health, medical care and other services, the “residential school days are still in practice.”
“Canada will be celebrating 150 years of occupying our lands. Canada continues to determine what it suspects is best for the First Nations. It is time to talk as equals,” Cutfeet said.
North Caribou Lake Chief Dinah Kanate is reaching out to other communities, asking everyone to pool their resources so they can hire an outside investigator into Keeash’s death as relations between First Nations people and the police in Thunder Bay are strained.
“They have a hard time accepting the work and the conclusion of the Thunder Bay Police. The trust and the relationship between the police and the communities is very difficult,” Fiddler said.
From 2000 to 2011, seven First Nations students lost their lives in Thunder Bay while they were far away from their home communities. They were in Thunder Bay for a high school education because their home reserves did not have adequate schools. Five of those students bodies were found in the waters surrounding Thunder Bay and an inquest into all seven’s death wrapped up last June.
Indigenous people living in this city on the shore of Lake Superior have long complained about the racism they face. And, nearly eight years ago, indigenous student Darryl Kakekayash said he was beaten and thrown into the river by three white men. A former Toronto police homicide detective investigated Kakekayash’s case, on behalf of some of the lawyers at the inquest, and, concluded the attack was “racially motivated.”
In November 2016, a provincial watchdog, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, began investigating the Thunder Bay police for “systemic racism” when dealing with the disappearance and death cases of indigenous people. The review is ongoing.
Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said the inquest into the deaths of the seven students examined the need for improved protocols surrounding missing children. She added given the history with the many tragic deaths of indigenous children and people in Thunder Bay, this should have been ironed out by now.
Keeash’s death should be under a particular spotlight in light of the coming launch of the national inquiry into the deaths of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls in Canada at the end of this month.
“When I think of Tammy, the circumstances of her death and there have been so many deaths like this where we have lost our indigenous women and it is concluded as accidental. This is a concern I have as an indigenous woman, as a person, and as the deputy grand chief of NAN. This is to frequent and has to be addressed,” she said.
Chris Adams, of the Thunder Bay police, said the post mortem examination results are a matter for the coroner and it is part of an “extensive investigation into Tammy’s death.”
“As stated in the past we will continue to work with the coroner’s office in their investigation. We will work with and pursue any new information that comes forward,” he said.Regarding the search for Begg, Adams said their investigators are in regular contact with the family and that information is shared only directly between the investigators and the family.