THUNDER BAY — The Nishnawbe Aski Nation Executive Council says video evidence of a First Nations man being dragged by Thunder Bay police officers should be admitted into the pending coroner’s inquest of two Indigenous men who died while in police custody in 2014 and 2017.
In an emailed statement issued on Thursday, Jan. 14, Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox expressed his support of the admission of the video evidence and for the families arguing in favour of the footage to be shown as evidence before the inquest jury.
The upcoming inquest will examine the circumstances around the deaths of Don Mamakwa, 44, of Kasabonika First Nation and Roland McKay, 50 of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, who both died while in the custody of the Thunder Bay Police Service.
A pre-inquest motion was held virtually on Thursday where lawyers for the Thunder Bay Chief of Police, and several officers argued the video should be excluded, saying the surveillance footage is irrelevant and outside the scope of the upcoming inquest.
The video depicts a Whitesand First Nation Man, Dino Kwandibens, while he was in custody at the Thunder Bay Police Station on Aug. 3, 2014. An officer can be seen dragging Kwandibens by his feet and into a cell. This was the same night Mamakwa was arrested for public intoxication and later found dead in his cell.
McKay died in police custody in July 2017.
Lawyers for the coroner and families of the two deceased men argued the video is both relevant and admissible in the pending inquest because it shows how both men were perceived by police and could potentially assist a jury on how to address biases and racism of Indigenous people by police.
The motion concluded on Thursday with presiding Dr. David Cameron saying he had lots to think about before coming to a decision on whether or not to exclude the video footage.
“The attempt by the Thunder Bay Police Service to suppress this evidence shows how far the police will go to cover up the truth about their treatment of Indigenous people in this city,” Fox said in a statement on Thursday. “This confirms that the Thunder Bay Police remain unwilling to confront the deadly issue of systemic racism, despite the police chief’s reluctant acknowledgement of systemic racism in the service after the release of the OIPRD Report in 2018.”
“This is racism and the jury must be allowed to hear this evidence,” Fox said.
Chief Alvin Fiddler also said in a statement in order to address the real issues of systemic racism the full truth must be told.
“The families deserve nothing less,” he said.