Wilfred King, executive director of the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre says he is appalled by what he believes is a racially insensitive email sent to media in error by police
City police do not believe a news release dubbing a murder suspect as “the Fresh Breath Killer” is racist.
A Thunder Bay Police Service officer in error sent the news release Saturday that stated police had captured the “Fresh Breath Killer.”
The email from an officer appeared to be referring the murder of 65-year-old Adam Yellowhead who was found dead Wednesday in a wooded area at the end of Field Street.
Deputy Chief Andy Hay said Tuesday they expected the public to have an unfavourable reaction toward the email, but added that he didn’t consider it to be a racial issue.
“We’re doing an internal investigation right now but I suspect he was doing it out of a little bit of misdirected levity,” Hay said.
“This is not a racial issue. We don’t see it as a racial issue. At this time we believe it’s not a racial issue unless something in our investigation turns up something different.”
He said the officer wasn’t supposed to be writing any releases and the news has fortunately overshadowed the hard work other police have done to charge someone quickly in a second-degree murder case.
Police Chief J.P. Levesque told media earlier that the mouthwash comment referred to material found at the scene.
The author of the news release wrote that “the fresh breath killer was captured in Kenora. The "SCPOE " (sic).
Within minutes, a follow-up release was sent asking media to ignore the original release.
On Friday in Kenora, OPP arrested 33-year-old Joseph Wesley of Thunder Bay and charged him with second-degree murder.
Hay said police sending joking releases to each other isn’t something that happens because the releases are intended for media. There are policies in place on who issues media releases and it’s generally done by the executive officer, senior officer or a media relations officer.
Anyone else has to have prior approval, he said.
“This issue becomes more news worthy for the moment than the actual fact that we have solved a homicide and a dangerous person is off the streets,” he said.
But Wilfred King, executive director of the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre, disagrees with the belief that the issue is not racial. He said the email highlights a culture of racism that appears to exist among some police officers.
“I was appalled when I first read this email,” King said. “I definitely think this is a racial issue. When you refer to someone in that nature to me is very clear, it’s a racial issue. It sends a very negative message to the Aboriginal people that reside here in the city of Thunder Bay. We’re supposed to have a professional police service, but these emails seem to be a common thing.”
In order to promote better relationship with First Nations, the city police established an Aboriginal liaison unit. Members of that unit went to First Nation communities across the North and gave presentations in an effort to present a side of policing that was understanding to the Aboriginal culture.
King said the email negates those efforts.
“We’ve been working so hard to try make this a better place for everyone to live and when we see the police service sending internal emails like this makes you wonder who the watchdog is to make sure these emails aren’t circulating within the police department,” he said.
“This email tells me that there needs to be an educational process for our police officers in terms of dealing with First Nation and Aboriginal peoples. There needs to be more than just an Aboriginal liaison unit.”
King added the whole incident overshadows the murder of Yellowhead and he expressed his condolences to the victim’s family and friends.
Police expect the investigation to last about two-to-three weeks.
The officer who sent the email will be staying on active duty while the investigation is being conducted.
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