Thunder Bay, Ontario, a mid-sized city of 108,000 people in Canada, has a rather terrifying case of racialized serial murder on its hands with very little indication that it will be solved any time soon. Last night, an unidentified man was pulled unconscious from the Neebing/McIntyre Floodway by Thunder Bay Police in the same one mile (1.6 kilometres) stretch of a “river of tears” where another five indigenous Canadians have been found dead in the last two years. All six bodies were discovered downstream from where Balmoral Street crosses the river. The main Thunder Bay Police station is just one mile North of the McIntyre River on Balmoral.
According to Thunder Bay firefighters, police arrived first last night, a firefighter discovered the unidentified male face down, police pulled him from the water without a pulse and revived him before an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. While the fire department thought the situation somewhat “hopeful,” there has been no recent update on whether or not the man is still living. CBC’s piece this morning had no update on his condition, the local hospital could not provide any update, especially without a name, and Thunder Bay Police operators redirected multiple calls without answering whether or not he survived through to morning. Local Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reporter Brittany Hobson has also not been able to obtain an update on the man’s condition as of this morning.
The unconscious male was in the water near the Silver City Cinema on North May Street. Christina Gliddy’s body was discovered near 870 North May Street in March 2016 next to a very short train trestle bridge over the same river. In October 2015, Stacy Debungee’s body was found 200 metres upstream near Waterford and Carrick streets. Clayton Mawakeesic, meanwhile, was found lifeless in the river in July 2016 at either Waterford or Balmoral street according to slightly varying CBC report. Last Saturday, Dylan Joe Francis Moonias was found dead in the water a few hundred meters downstream from North May Street, just East of Fort William Road. Josiah Begg was found a bit further downstream, also dead, in May of this year behind the Royal Canadian Legion’s Slovak branch building
The body of Tammy Keeash, also indigenous, was found this past May in a related marsh just upstream.
Thunder Bay Police immediately ruled that Keeash’s death was by drowning and did not involve foul play even though there was almost no water in the marsh and her body was found, by playing children at a church, with her pants pulled down to around her ankles, a fact police concealed from the public until APTN reporters Willow Fiddler and Kenneth Jackson spoke with the pastor of the church.
In 2016 an Ontario Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of seven indigenous youths in Thunder Bay between 2000-2011 concluded with 145 recommendations issued to eight parties, indigenous and non-indigenous. Many of the youths were discovered in the McIntyre Floodway and other local rivers, and four of their seven deaths remain completely unsolved. Several of the recommendations were repeats from a similar inquiry two decades ago. An overall report card (C+) on the first year of implementation of those recommendations argued that the most important of the overseers in Thunder Bay are continuing to fall far short.
In addition, there are similar cases of rape, attempted rape, and attempted murder against First Nations people, especially youth, and several missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (mmiwg) incidents stretching back decades in the Thunder Bay area, nearly all of them unsolved. Perpetrators of such crimes have been known to brag to their victims that “they ha[ve] done it before and they w[ill] do it again.” The Thunder Bay Police chief and the town’s mayor (a former police officer of thirty-four years) have recently been charged criminally for alleged threats, extortion, and obstruction of justice by Ontario Provincial Police in unrelated cases.
Local First Nations people blame the violence on a level of vicious racism rarely seen in North America outside the United States South up through the 1960s. Many local white people, and it is painful to even attempt to repeat such claims with anything like a straight face, suggest simultaneously that there is no problem with serial murder, that they are not in fact racists, and that the deaths can virtually all be put down to native people swimming while drunk.
After years of begging for outside police forces to investigate, Ontario’s hapless Office of the Independent Police Review (OIPRD), which cannot lay charges on its own even if it does substantiate criminal wrongdoing by officers, has just begun a systemic review of the situation, and York Regional Police, over 800 miles (1400 km) away, are investigating the deaths of Keash and Begg. Earlier this week, Moonias’ body was flown to Toronto for investigation.
All of these half measures, however, did next to nothing to protect the unidentified man pulled from the water with a “fading” pulse last night. It is unclear at this point whether he will survive. In the meantime, Thunder Bay’s population of 12,000 indigenous people have yet to receive any indication that Canada has any serious will or means to put a stop to the severe and racialized violence with which the region’s white citizens have targeted them.
Doug Johnson is an independent reporter living in Ontario, Canada. He most often writes on elections and polling issues.