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Kasabonika chief questions police custody death

Thursday February 14, 2013
Kasabonika First Nation band office.

Kasabonika Chief Gordon Anderson is highlighting his community’s lack of a jail cell after a 23-year-old woman died while in police custody in Kasabonika.

“I guess the NAPS (Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service) officer had to detain her for a while and put her in a police vehicle,” Anderson said. “We haven’t had a jail cell for the last two or three years. After (the Kashechewan inquest) they dismantled our cells here and we haven’t had anything, only the (NAPS) office.”

Lena Anderson of Kasabonika First Nation died while in police custody after being detained by a NAPS officer in the community on Feb. 1.

The Ontario Provincial Police’s Criminal Investigation Branch is conducting an investigation into the death.

Anderson said the community invested $50,000 into a modular unit police station with jail cells for NAPS to use about three years ago when he was serving a previous term as chief, but NAPS had not yet moved into the building. Anderson was re-elected as chief this past March after Eno H. Anderson served the community for the past term.

“I gladly contributed $50,000 towards getting this place (modular unit police station) in as soon as possible,” Anderson said. “But after three years now, I’m still waiting here just looking at the building.”

Anderson said NAPS is currently using a police office without jail cells located in the band office building.

“(The modular unit police station) is still not being used,” Anderson said. “All they do is keep (people in custody) in a police vehicle. It’s very frustrating. People who are intoxicated or that need to be looked after, they just keep them in the police vehicle for a while and then take them home, which is also very dangerous.”

Anderson said the modular unit police station has been ready for use for some time, adding that the public works department had installed water and hydro.

A NAPS spokeswoman said NAPS has operational holding cells in Kasabonika, but at the time of Leona Anderson’s death the holding cells were not operational.

Dr. Michael Wilson, regional supervising coroner in Thunder Bay, said there will likely be an inquest into the woman’s death.

“It is my understanding of the case that she was in custody at the time of her death, so an inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act,” Wilson said on Feb. 5.

Wilson has since been corresponding with the OPP investigators and the community leadership on the woman’s death.

“As well, I am going to be personally travelling to that community in the next few weeks to have further discussions,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the allegation that there are no jail cells in the community would be looked at.
“Clearly, how people who have been taken into custody are treated would be something that we would be looking at,” Wilson said.

A NAPS spokeswoman said the OPP were called in to do the investigation because NAPS does not operate under the Police Services Act of Ontario, which stipulates that the Special Investigations Unit is responsible for investigating circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in a death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

A post mortem was conducted on Feb. 3 in Kenora with the assistance of the Kenora OPP Forensic Identification Unit.


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