Police services, NAN want a better community

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno addresses Tuesday’s community safety forum at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
(Sandi Krasowski)
NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno addresses Tuesday’s community safety forum at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. (Sandi Krasowski)

By Julia Prinselaar
In an effort to repair a relationship that is “broken,” First Nations leadership, community organizations and law enforcement officers came together Tuesday night to discuss two ongoing police investigations involving First Nations people and next steps toward ensuring community safety.
“There (is) no other way to describe the relationship that exists between the First Nation community and the police,” said Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which hosted the public forum on community safety in partnership with the Thunder Bay Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police.
Fiddler said he hopes that trust can be rebuilt through dialogue, and that the forum was “the beginning of that first step.”
He noted an allegation by a 19-year-old First Nation man that a Thunder Bay Police officer transported him to a location outside the city limits in early December, where he was left to walk back to his residence in the city.
The incident, which city police asked the OPP to investigate, sparked calls from anxious parents and First Nations leaders about the safety of students returning to Thunder Bay from Northern communities for the second school term, said Fiddler.
“We need to do all we can to ensure steps are being taken for community safety,” he said.
OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Dayna Wellock said the ongoing investigation involves a crime unit team and is being taken “extremely seriously.”
Thunder Bay Police spoke to a separate incident involving the alleged abduction and sexual assault of a 37-year-old First Nation woman, which police say is being treated as a possible hate-motivated crime.
Chief J.P. Levesque said the report is being referred to as a “major case.”
“Specifics to the case, it’s very difficult to speak of that. It’s an ongoing investigation and we don’t want to hamper the investigation,” said Levesque.
He was joined by Det. Insp. Don Lewis who said five full-time criminal investigation officers are dedicated to the case.
The team is maintaining regular contact with the victim, her support, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and its legal counsel, Lewis added.
City Mayor Keith Hobbs said Tuesday’s forum was “long overdue.”
He recalled when he was vice-president of the Thunder Bay Police Association in 1997 and Thunder Bay was identified as the No. 1 city in Canada for violent crime, and had the highest alcohol and drug use and abuse in Ontario.
“We tried to get people together (then), and now we’re here altogether. It’s really great,” said Hobbs.
He said success for children and youth is bolstered by education and safe communities.
“We as leaders have to make sure that they get there, and they can only get there in a safe community,” said Hobbs.
More than 200 people representing community organizations, students and the general public were in attendance to voice their concerns about community safety.
Fiddler said a meeting will be held next week in an effort to begin a plan that “ensures community safety.”