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Seven Youth Inquest grade continues to improve after third year

The overall grade for the implementation of the 145 recommendations from the Seven Youth Inquest has risen from a B+ to an A-

THUNDER BAY - The overall grade for the implementation of the 145 recommendations from the Seven Youth Inquest has increased again after year three, but lawyers representing six of the seven families say getting a better grade will take a lot of work and a lot of commitment from all parties involved.

“I would like to say the grades will only go up, but I think it will be a challenge to get the grades much higher,” said Jonathan Rudin, program director at Aboriginal Legal Services.

The overall grade has increased from a B+ to an A- in the past year and Rudin said he is cautiously optimistic.

“That’s really great and I’m hoping that will continue,” he said. “The work gets harder every year because these recommendations get more and more difficult to implement, but there seems to be a will to move forward.”

Aboriginal Legal Services released the third year report card for the Seven Youth Inquest that was held between October 2015 and June 2016 following the deaths of Jethro Anderson, Reggie Bushie, Robyn Harper, Kyle Morrisseau, Paul Panacheese, Curran Strang and Jordan Wabasse, who died between 2000 and 2011 while attending school in Thunder Bay.

A jury handed down 145 recommendations to the provincial and federal governments, the Thunder Bay Police Service, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the city of Thunder Bay, Matawa Learning Centre, Northern Nishnawbe Education Council and Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, and Keewaytinook Okimakanak.  

The overall grade of A- is up from a B+ last year and a C+ in the first year, with 83 per cent of the recommendations being listed as complete. All individual stakeholders graded climbed at least half a grade compared to last year.

The provincial and federal governments are the only stakeholders that remain below at least an A- and both were given a B+. The city of Thunder Bay received an A, while NAN an A-, Matawa an A-, Northern Nishnawbe Education Council and DFC an A+, and KO an A+.

  Year One Grade Year Two Grade Year Three Grade
Overall C+ B+ A-
Canada D C+ B+
Ontario C+ B B+
Thunder Bay C+ A- A
NAN C+ B- A-
Matawa Learning Centre A- B A-
Northern Nishnawbe Education Council and DFC A- A+ A+
Keewaytinook Okimakanak A A+ A+

“I would love it to get to an A, but it’s going to take work,” Rudin said. “The short-term recommendations are almost all done and those were most of the recommendations. About 88 recommendations were short-term. That is a good bedrock for continued success.”

Of the 145 recommendations, 40 are medium-term and 17 are long-term and Rudin said some of them will be really challenging to implement, such as bringing clean and safe drinking water to all First Nation communities.  

The Thunder Bay Police Service was not graded again this year because it is continuing to address recommendations handed down by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, including the recent announcement to reinvestigate four of the seven deaths that were part of the inquest.

“The reinvestigation is positive news,” Rudin said. “It’s not great because I don’t know what we will be able to find out. Some of these deaths, one of them is 19-years-old, so I don’t know what we are going to be able to find out now, but the fact that Thunder Bay Police are committed to doing that reinvestigation is a good thing.”

According to Caitlyn Kasper, legal counsel with Aboriginal Legal Services, the progress being made on the recommendations is encouraging to the families of the youth, who see it as respect being shown for the loss they have incurred.  

“I think there was initially some hesitation and concern from the families as to whether or not those recommendations will be taken seriously,” Kasper said. “I think we have shown over the years this has been a real progression in terms of the parties making real substantive efforts to complete what was brought before them.”

More work still needed

NAN deputy grand chief, Derek Fox, said seeing the progress being made on the recommendations shows that all the parties are working together collectively and effectively.

“That means more safety for our youth and more success for our youth and that’s all we want to see,” he said.

Fox added that NAN has taken significant steps in the last two years working on the recommendations, including holding education summits and working with all partners. Future plans include things like taking students out hunting who may be homesick or missing their families to provide them an opportunity to feel more connected to the land.

But Fox said there is still a lot of work to be done and he would like to see more core funding made available by the provincial and federal governments.

“I have to believe that Thunder Bay is a safer place and will become a safer place as the years go on,” he said. “Our students will continue to come here and we read the headlines about all the gang activity and crime in our community, but since two years ago, since we had that education emergency meeting, I believe it has gotten safer, but we can do a lot more.”

Rudin said there are some recommendations that may never be completed because the organization or group it was directed toward does not feel it should have been.

Kasper said she would like to see all the parties come together to determine whether or not it is appropriate to revisit these recommendations and find someone to take responsibility.

Aboriginal Legal Services will continue to provide yearly report cards on the progress of the 145 recommendations.

“I think one of the successes of this is Aboriginal Legal Services has created an environment where these are consistently revisited and there is a sense of both shame and pride that has happened over the years,” Kasper.

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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