Ontario Provincial Police are reinvestigating the deaths of 13 Indigenous people between 2006 and 2019 in Thunder Bay.
OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson confirmed Tuesday the independent reinvestigations are ongoing and have been undertaken at the request of the province’s attorney general. The cases were previously investigated by the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and, in a report last year, were identified as being in need of being investigated again.
These new investigations have been assigned to OPP officers and are being led by a major case manager in the organization’s criminal investigations branch.
“Our intention is to take a victim-centred, trauma and culturally informed approach to thoroughly investigate the circumstances leading to these 13 tragic deaths in Thunder Bay,” Dickson said in a statement.
The reinvestigations may lead to new criminal charges, he said.
“We believe victims’ families, friends, communities and the public deserve to know what happened.”
Dickson declined to provide further details about which specific cases are being reinvestigated.
Thunder Bay police Chief Darcy Fleury previously told CBC News he was open to any reinvestigations and would co-operate with them.
“If there are the shortcomings that have been reported, then definitely I’m open to having them reinvestigated,” he said in an interview on March 22, shortly after his hiring was announced.
CBC News emailed the TBPS on Tuesday to request an interview.
Coroner review of 2 deaths also in confidential report
Tuesday’s news comes just over a year after an investigative team looking into how the TBPS investigated sudden death cases recommended that 14 death cases be re-examined. The recommendations are contained in a confidential report leaked to media organizations, including CBC News.
The report also included one case recommended for a coroner’s review of a missing-person death and another for a drug death.
It also found 25 unresolved missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) cases from Thunder Bay should be reviewed.
The report was part of the final work of the Broken Trust committee, formed after the province’s oversight agency, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, found evidence of systemic racism in the city’s police force in 2018.
The committee called for the reinvestigation of the sudden deaths of nine Indigenous people. Part of the process was to consider if other sudden death investigations undertaken by Thunder Bay police should be conducted again.
Since that report, the police service and its oversight board have undergone significant turnover: Fleury was hired as the new police chief and the oversight board has been under the control of a provincially appointed administrator for the past year.