How stereotypes led to the deaths of two Indigenous men in Thunder Bay police custody: expert


A doctor with experience in Indigenous well being care instructed a coroner’s inquest Wednesday that she heard stereotypes kick in from the first 9-1-1 name that led to a person being arrested for public intoxication earlier than he died from medical circumstances in Thunder Bay police custody hours later.

Dr. Suzanne Shoush testified as an expert witness at the joint inquest into the deaths of Donald Mamakwa, 44, in 2014 and his 50-year-old uncle Roland McKay in 2017. Both Indigenous men died of medical diseases in cells at Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters after they have been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication, and neither was assessed by a health care provider or nurse earlier than they died.

Shoush testified about how biases and prejudice primarily based on racist assumptions may cause “malignant narratives” to take over when folks work together with sure teams, like those that are Indigenous, seem intoxicated or are experiencing homelessness.

She mentioned she noticed that sample play out in 9-1-1 recordings the inquest heard a day earlier when an nameless man referred to as to report that he had seen Mamakwa “handed out” on the steps of a Thunder Bay church.

“It was a malignant narrative from the starting,” Shoush testified in Thunder Bay. “Stereotypes got here into play.”

Shoush famous that the man reacted with obvious “disgust” when requested if he approached Mamakwa. A dialog between responders on the line who later commented about the place the report got here in from instructed they held stigma about the space and “disdain” for an alcohol remedy program close by, Shoush added.

Shoush confused the significance that individuals in high-stress, public-facing jobs like policing and well being care undertake cultural security coaching and be taught “circuit breaker” strategies to interrupt biases knowledgeable by racist and different stereotypes that may have an effect on their decision-making. This will help forestall “catastrophic” outcomes, she testified.

“As we noticed in this inquest, the impacts can truly be very lethal. They can truly outcome in demise,” she testified.

Earlier in the day, the inquest considered cellblock footage depicting Mamakwa in the hours earlier than he died that confirmed him reaching out for assist, misleading down and struggling to transfer.

The inquest heard Tuesday that he died from issues of diabetes and sepsis — a trigger of demise inquest counsel has mentioned was seemingly preventable if he had been taken to a hospital, the place he would have had a 97 per cent probability of survival.

The footage, which didn’t have sound, confirmed Mamakwa at one level reaching his arm out between the bars of the cell, holding a juice field. Inquest counsel mentioned the timing of the clip corresponded with testimony from one other man who had been in custody at the time and instructed investigators that Mamakwa had requested him for a drink however he was unable to assist him.

An earlier clip confirmed a constable dropping off the juice field whereas Mamakwa was misleading on the mattress. He used his left foot to slowly slide the juice field in the direction of him and appeared to drink it whereas misleading down.

Many of the clips confirmed Mamakwa misleading down. In others, he was sitting up and rocking forwards and backwards, showing to breathe closely, clutching his chest and struggling to stand shortly earlier than he died early on Aug. 3, 2014.

Shoush testified about structural racism in Canada’s health-care system stemming from the nation’s colonial historical past, and racist stereotypes that Indigenous folks face like these associated to alcohol use, regardless of real-world proof that contradicts them.

Her testimony additionally touched on how well being circumstances like sepsis and blood sugar can mimic intoxication and trigger an individual to have an altered degree of consciousness. She mentioned folks in that state needs to be checked in on repeatedly and cleared by a medical skilled.

Families of the two men testified Tuesday about the ache of their losses understanding that they weren’t taken hospital for remedy.

Shoush mentioned she famous that Mamakwa’s household shared that he, like many different Indigenous adults in Thunder Bay, didn’t have a major caregiver and he would go to the emergency room when he wanted look after his diabetes. This would have left him with no management over his power situation and with no dependable supply of care or trusted supplier to assist him forestall the sickness from worsening, she mentioned.

The “context and nuance” of the occasions round him being taken into custody — that Mamakwa was a visibly Indigenous particular person — should be thought of when the tragic end result and making an attempt to discover options, she added.

“I discover it laborious to consider that the solely downside was a failure to acknowledge a fundamental medical disaster,” she mentioned.

“It’s that we aren’t addressing the biases which can be unconscious and unconscious.”

The inquest additionally heard an audio recording Wednesday of an interview with a paramedic who mentioned he didn’t bodily assess Mamakwa or take him to the hospital regardless of the man asking to go.

In the dialog, which was recorded the 12 months after Mamakwa’s demise, Rob Corbeil mentioned Mamakwa was already being taken into police custody at the time when the ambulance arrived in response to a “man down” name. Corbeil mentioned Mamakwa mentioned twice that he wished to go to the hospital, telling Corbeil “I can not breathe.”

The paramedic mentioned Mamakwa appeared “regular” to him and didn’t seem to be having issue respiration. Corbeil mentioned he instructed the police officers, “‘He would not look quick of breath to me,’ or one thing to that impact.”

Corbeil mentioned he didn’t bodily assess Mamakwa and left shortly after.

“In retrospect, I in all probability ought to have achieved a set of vitals. I couldn’t discover a purpose to. There was nothing fallacious with him so far as I might see,” he mentioned.

This report by The Canadian Press was first revealed Oct. 12, 2022.


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