THUNDER BAY – Guns are a growing concern in Thunder Bay, fueled by increased gang activity largely related to the lucrative drug trade.
Gang members from Toronto, Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada have infiltrated the illegal narcotics scene in the city, and it’s led to more firearms violence and execution-style deaths.
In the past gun deaths in Thunder Bay were rare.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who cancelled a planned Friday trip to Thunder Bay after contracting COVID-19, spoke to media in isolation from Toronto and said Thunder Bay’s issues aren’t dissimilar to those found in larger centres.
Horwath pointed out it’s also an issue in Hamilton and in Sudbury, another Northern Ontario community that’s proven not immune to drug-related violence.
“A lot of the Northern communities are worried about the same things,” Horwath said. “The solutions may look a little different in Northern communities. But the result of not finding the right mixture of policies to address that violence is just going to continue to allow it to proliferate and people lose their lives.
“Young people lose their lives and communities feel unsafe.”
Horwath acknowledged there’s a growing concern in a community like Thunder Bay, worried about crime and looking for answers and politicians willing to deliver results.
Part of that is addressing poverty issues that often lead people to addiction or into the criminal world, seeking to make a better life for themselves.
“We would be doing similar things, but much more focused and targeted on the needs of the Thunder Bay community. There are certainly structural things – partnering with the federal government, for example in that regard,” Horwath said.
“But the kinds of things I was talking about, in terms of how we support communities to be able to provide opportunity and hope for the people that are joining gangs and being part of these unacceptable behaviours, but the solution for Thunder Bay is going to look different from the solution here in the south.”
Horwath also addressed her priority list for Northwestern Ontario First Nations, promising to do what it takes to find solutions for water issues and housing shortages in Indigenous communities.
It’s unbelievable what many First Nations communities are still addressing, after years and years of experiencing the same problems, Horwath said.
“Whether that’s safe drinking water on the territories, whether that’s the housing crisis that continues to be problematic on the territories, whether that’s lack of health care and access to proper health care, all of these things are unsolved for many, many years.”
Particularly when it comes to water, Horwath said an NDP government won’t put up with federal red tape that’s led to lengthy boil-water advisories in many communities, some that have lasted for decades.
The jurisdictional ping-pong has to stop.
“What I’ve always said water, and I now say with housing, we’ll start fixing it. We’ll get to work, start fixing the water crisis and the housing crisis and we’ll send the bill to Ottawa. Because people should not be living in the kinds of conditions that they are and as those conditions worsen and people have difficulty eking out a dignified existence, we see what happens,” Horwath said.
“We see when young people lose hope for the future. We know the suicide crisis that’s up and down over the last couple of years. No young person should want to die by suicide because there’s just no hope and their existence is just so bleak.”
Horwath said an NDP government would also work closely with leadership in First Nation communities as well as urban centres like Sioux Lookout, Kenora and Thunder Bay to make sure to provide that dignity and quality of life.”