THUNDER BAY – The hacker activist group Anonymous appears to have put the city's police force in its crosshairs.
Through social media messages and a recently released YouTube video by Anonymous News Canada, Anonymous supporters are asked to join Operation Thunderbird. In the video, politicians and police forces across the country are accused of ignoring cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
While Operation Thunderbird appears to target all police services in Canada, it makes specific mention of the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“You have ignored the horrors of missing or murder of indigenous women for the last time,” says the voice in the YouTube video specifically to the Thunder Bay Police Service. "We can no longer idly standby ... Operation Thunder Bird will begin a downpour of rage and justice.”The video refers to a Dec. 27 incident in Thunder Bay where an Aboriginal woman was allegedly abducted and taken to a wooded area where she was sexually assaulted.
The video accuses the city's police force of exaggerating its efforts in solving that case and is now warning the Thunder Bay Police Service that it has until Jan. 28 to take its investigation seriously.
The video threatens to release embarrassing information about the force and its officers.
Story continues after video (Skip to 1:45 for threats against Thunder Bay Police Service) ...
“Why have you decided there’s too many white males driving green two-door sedans to pursue this case?” the video's narrator asks.
“We have set up a secret nest in the house of indignity that is the Thunder Bay police headquarters. We see your piles of worthless paperwork relating to the kidnapping, rape and attempted murder of one of our indigenous sisters. Did you learn the art of investigation in a small town mall?”
Police spokesman Chris Adams said they’re aware of the video and are assessing the situation and what kind of impacts the threats could have.
Adams warned that any non-attributed statements through social media are filled with errors.
“We stand by our investigations of any case that’s ongoing. There will have to be an evaluation of the exact content. That’s further down the road to determine whether or not any criminal act has been committed.”
Adams did confirm that a single officer is working on the sexual assault and abduction case as a lead investigator, but that at one time there was five officers working the case.
Adams said there are times during the investigation where it slows down to where a single officer is monitoring new information.
“Best way to remain anonymous is through crime stoppers,” he said regarding online chatter about this and other cases. “Anything that’s posted through social media is open for speculation.
"For police investigations, it could become a venue for misinformation. Investigators like working with facts and being able to confirm them. Especially when unnamed persons start making unsubstantiated claims, it starts to really muddy the water.”
Adams said they will wait to see if Anonymous follows through on their threat.
“You have to remember that anyone can step forward and say they are Anonymous,” he said. “Is Anonymous really Anonymous?"
Mayor Keith Hobbs said he didn’t see the video but was brief on its contents. Hobbs, a former police officer, said he considers the city’s police service one of the best and added that they have been completely transparent with their investigations.
He added that police are an easy target for groups like Anonymous to attack.
“I absolutely give no credence to any individual or groups that want to make accusations like this,” Hobbs said. “There’s lots of Aboriginal groups who fought hard to get civilian oversight of police. That’s where these complaints should be handled not on social media or in the media. Anyone at any time can make up allegations.”
The mayor praised the police service for reporting on their investigation on the incident at the Safety Forum last week at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. Hobbs explained that the cases are difficult to investigate because they’re hard to prove.
Twitter user @Anony_mmis, an account linked to the Operation Thunderbird initiative, responded to some of the local remarks made about the Anonymous video.
In the response the user states the city police force's attitude toward cases involving Aboriginal women are too similar to the attitudes police had while investigating some of the missing person cases in B.C. that were eventually linked to the Robert Pickton murders.
"The government inquiry into what went wrong with missing and murdered indigenous women in British Columbia found that there was a deep, deep level of prejudice against victims that lead to murders by Robert Pickton and others," writes Twitter user @Anony_mmis in a direct message to a tbnewswatch.com reporter.
"We see no evidence that things are done any differently whatsoever in Northwestern Ontario policing.
"Genuinely doing justice with respect to racism means tackling ongoing racism in police, legal, government and social structures."
Maryanne Matthews, spokeswoman for the Ontario Native Women's Association, said they do not condone vigilante action or violence and stressed that peaceful cooperation is the best course in ensuring a safer community.
“The safety of Aboriginal women and their families remain a top priority for ONWA,” she said.
“Currently, we are working together with Nishnawbe Aski Nation, other Aboriginal organizations, the City of Thunder Bay, and Thunder Bay police to address the safety concerns within the community.”
Over the past two decades, there’s been more than 600 cases of murdered or missing Aboriginal women in Canada. Matthews said ONWA is the voice of those women and their families and works to empower Aboriginal women throughout Ontario.