Inquest for 2 First Nations men who died in police custody in Thunder Bay, Ont., begins today


It’s been years since Don Mamakwa and Roland McKay, each from Oji-Cree First Nations in northwestern Ontario, died individually whereas in police custody.

The households of the 2 men now hope a coroner’s inquest that begins today (Tuesday) in Thunder Bay, Ont., will give them solutions surrounding the circumstances of their deaths.

Mamakwa, 44, of Kasabonika Lake and McKay, 50, of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug died Aug. 2, 2014, and July 20, 2017, respectively, in their cells once they misplaced very important indicators (associated to medical sickness, based on courtroom info) whereas being detained at Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters. Both men had been arrested on allegations of public intoxication. Coroner’s inquests are obligatory in Ontario when a loss of life happens whereas somebody is in custody or detained.

Denise Tait, a niece of each Mamakwa and McKay, plans to be in attendance for all 17 days put aside for the inquest.

He clearly wanted assist. That’s why the ambulance was known as …​​​​​​​ as an alternative, they cleared him and took him to jail.– Denise Tait on what occurred to her uncle, Roland McKay

Tait mentioned she desires to know who made the choice to medically clear McKay of any well being considerations and ship him to the police station as an alternative of the hospital.

“He clearly wanted assist. That’s why the ambulance was known as,” Tait informed CBC News. “Instead, they cleared him and took him to jail.

“I’ve been ready years to get this reply.”

The inquest will attempt to reply a variety of questions, together with:

  • How racism, bias and stereotypes might have performed a task in the police and paramedics’ remedy of Mamakwa and McKay.
  • How individuals suspected to be intoxicated are assessed by first responders.
  • Whether it is applicable to take them into police custody.

Rachel Mamakwa mentioned she has combined emotions concerning the begin of the inquest, greater than eight years after her brother Don died.

Rachel Mamakwa, sister of Don Mamakwa and niece of Roland McKay, says it has been exhausting for the household to place each men to relaxation till the inquest is over. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

“Every time this comes up … the sentiments come again from that day once we misplaced him. The harm and anger,” Rachel mentioned.

She mentioned she hopes the inquest results in change so nobody else dies in the police station and folks get the helps they want.

“Take them to the hospital as an alternative of the jail for them to die there, like what occurred to my brother. He needed to go to the hospital.”

Police custody deaths a nationwide downside

Mamakwa and McKay are amongst 61 individuals throughout Canada who have died in police custody since 2010 after being detained for public intoxication or comparable offences, based on a CBC News investigation story revealed late in 2021.

The investigation, which examined roughly 250 deaths in police custody in Canada, discovered a majority of the 61 individuals have been despatched to a cell for the evening as a result of police thought they have been a hazard to themselves or others.

In 17 of the instances, somebody died after their medical situation was downplayed or ignored and 13 died after they weren’t correctly monitored by police officers or guards.

That was a difficulty in the loss of life of Mamakwa, based on an investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario’s police watchdog company.

Their 2015 investigation report famous that Mamakwa was experiencing respiratory difficulties, however was left unattended in the police cell for almost 5 hours earlier than his loss of life.

The 2021 CBC News investigation additionally discovered many of the police custody deaths occurred in rural police detachments, typically in communities the place there aren’t any detox or sobering centres.

While there’s a detox centre in Thunder Bay, the SIU investigation discovered no beds have been out there on the centre on the evening McKay died, so he was dropped at the police station as an alternative.

The SIU mentioned it didn’t discover ample proof to cost any of the responding officers in the 2 deaths, however first responders should nonetheless be held accountable, mentioned Asha James, a lawyer representing the households of each men.

Asha James, a lawyer representing the households of Mamakwa and McKay, says her purchasers are wanting for systemic change to stop different Indigenous individuals from dying in police custody. (CBC)

“For the households, it does not finish there. The remedy that each Don and Roland acquired — you realize, the ignoring of their request for medical support, assumptions that have been made about their stage of intoxication and their want for medical remedy — whereas won’t be felony, it is a particular downside,” James informed CBC News.

“They’re tales that we have heard Indigenous individuals in Thunder Bay inform over, and over, and over once more about these interactions they’ve with the police and with EMS.”

Two stories launched in December 2018 discovered proof of systemic racism towards Indigenous individuals by each the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and its oversight board.

Inquest to look at position of racism in deaths

The position racism might have performed in the remedy of Mamakwa and McKay will likely be a central query for the coroner’s jury to contemplate, James mentioned.

After a authorized combat between the TBPS and the households, video footage of a 3rd man being dragged contained in the TBPS station will likely be included as proof.

That man, Dino Kwandibens of Whitesand First Nation, was introduced into custody simply minutes after Mamakwa in 2014.

To see the unique movies of Kwandibens in Thunder Bay police custody, observe this hyperlink (Warning: The movies comprise disturbing photographs).

“For a very long time, we have heard the tales, nevertheless it’s very totally different when individuals see it they usually hear it,” James mentioned.

“One of the issues that I’m hoping is that form of visible illustration goes to create an actual eye-opening moment for among the neighborhood members in Thunder Bay who have not realized the depth of what is been happening in the connection between the police service and Indigenous individuals in the town.”

Leaders representing two-thirds of the First Nations in Ontario known as for the TBPS to lose their energy to research deaths of Indigenous individuals and for the TBPS to be disbanded fully.

Those calls got here after a report was leaked to CBC News that discovered important deficiencies in loss of life investigations of Indigenous individuals, and concluded at the least 16 ought to be reviewed or reinvestigated. That report adopted an earlier one in 2018 that known as for the reinvestigation of an extra 9 deaths of Indigenous individuals in the northwestern Ontario metropolis.

A spokesperson with the TBPS declined the chance to touch upon the deaths of Mamakwa and McKay or issues surrounding police interactions with intoxicated people, saying it will be greatest for these points to be mentioned in the course of the inquest.

Inquest juries are prohibited from making any discovering of obligation or expressing any conclusion of regulation, the province says. In suggestions to stop different deaths, juries can also’t assign blame or “state or indicate any judgment.” 

Family members of Mamakwa and McKay are anticipated to testify on the primary day of the inquest. The Ontario authorities expects there will likely be 31 witnesses in whole.


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