THUNDER BAY – A planned unauthorized tree planting in protest of the Thunder Bay Police's treatment of Indigenous people did not go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday morning.
But the group behind it, Not One More Death, promised to plant an entire forest of white spruce in front of police headquarters on Balmoral Street if a promised meeting with police to discuss the issue doesn’t provided the answers they’re seeking.
At issue is what they perceive as a lack of transparency when it comes to internal police discipline, notably a recent decision internally punish an officer seen on a widely circulated video slapping an intoxicated Indigenous teenager on a stretcher, after the teen spat at the officer in question. Police called it an internal employment matter.
A Police Act hearing would have made results of the investigation, and any punishment, public.
The group was also protesting police violence against Indigenous people.
The decision not to plant the tree at this time was made after the group of nine, along with several elders, met with representatives of Thunder Bay Police and the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, agreeing to hold future discussions before any action takes place.
“We will not be taking action today, but this process is just beginning,” said Jessica Jurgotis, a spokeswoman with Not One More Death.
The group plans to be vocal on the topic moving forward, making sure their voices are heard.
“Every time there is police violence, any form of lack of transparency or accountability, we will be organizing protests and our presence again, in order to make sure that accountability is maintained moving forward,” said Cassie Thornton, another member of the newly formed organization, which arose out of the former Bear Clan chapter.
Both the police department and the police services board were found to have systemic racism ingrained within their structures in a pair of highly publicized reports released in 2018. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director slammed police for its investigative practices involving Indigenous people, recommending nine homicide cases be re-looked at
Senator Murray Sinclair delivered an equally damning report, accusing the board of not recognizing or addressing issues of systemic racism within the TBPS.
Deputy Police Chief Ryan Hughes, who met with the protestors on Tuesday, said he understands the frustration of Not One More Death, but could not promise police would be able to provide more transparency on internal disciplinary hearings.
“Like everybody else, our officers have a right to privacy, under legislation. When our officers are disciplined for actions, whether they’re against the Police Service Act or some other statute, some won’t be published what the discipline is,” Hughes said.
“And that’s what gets people upset, that it’s not transparent. But it is being transparent, the officers have been disciplined, although we’re not going to let the public know what the discipline is.”
Georjann Morriseau, chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board said she wants to be proactive moving forward.
“After our discussion, I’m committed to work and sit down with this group of elders and this group to say, ‘What can we do, collectively?’ I think we’ve got to recognize that not all police are bad. Not all Nishnawbe people are bad – and that’s not to dismiss anything. But sometimes these things need to happen to get some (action) moving forward,” Morisseau said.
“I think the first thing to do is talk.”