As efforts continue to improve relations between the First Nations community in Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay Police Services, Chief of Police JP Levesque met with Wawatay to discuss issues and perceptions related to policing.
WWT: The case alleging that a youth was driven outside of the city and dropped off by police, what are the facts with that?
JPL: The OPP based out of Sioux Lookout are looking after that. The last time I spoke to the lead investigator was last week, and they were probably four weeks away from coming out with any kind of report.
WWT: What internal procedures and plans do you have to ensure that if something like this happens, those responsible can be held accountable?
JPL: I’ve said this a number of times. The chief is a CEO of the organization. And any CEO that has an allegation against one of their people, and we’re not talking some minor misuse of judgment, we’re talking about a criminal allegation here, if its factual, it’s an abduction, and punishable under the criminal code. Do I want a person who is capable of doing that working in my organization? I do not. All CEOs wouldn’t want that in their organization. Yes I’d like to find out what the truth is, and if its something we need to deal with we will deal with it as we do under the criminal code.
WWT: Are you seeing that there is an increased amount of harassments, assaults of First Nations people by non-natives in the city?
JPL: I don’t know that we’re hearing about it. And we can’t investigate what we don’t hear about. I know there was a rash last summer of individuals driving by Aboriginal youth and throwing things at them. During that period, the way we deal with it is that any report like that goes under one incident number so it’s easily track-able. And I can’t say that there’s been this huge influx reported to us (now). I’m not saying that it’s not happening. I’m just saying that it hasn’t been reported to us.
WWT: There is also the issue that people are afraid to go to the police with their problems. What are your thoughts on that, what do you have in place to address that?
JPL: Well we were talking before about social media. What we’re seeing is really the effects of people having encounters with the police that tend to be fairly innocuous, maybe. Somehow start out as kind of a routine thing for our people and end up not being that by the time it gets through social media and is told 100 times. So there is that phenomenon going on as well. You know, I’m not saying those things are not happening, as far as the drive-by assaults, throwing material at people and stuff. But as far as the mistrust, getting back to the social media side of it, mistruth leads to mistrust. And in some cases, fear, as we’re seeing. I guess what we’re asking, and its something I’ve been talking to the Aboriginal leadership about, is let’s be truthful about the interactions. Obviously if somebody’s had something happen to them, be it a member of the public does something to them or they are not happy with the way they were dealt with by one of our members, we want to hear about it. It’s unfortunate that people are feeling that they can’t come to this service to report those kinds of things.
WWT: There are also safety concerns of First Nations people coming from the communities into the city, especially with kids coming to school. What message would you have for parents sending their kids here and the unease about people sending their children to school in Thunder Bay?
JPL: It’s unfortunate. We have, I like to think, a good relationship with Jonathon Kakegamic and the folks at Dennis Franklin Cromarty. We work closely to ensure the safety of the kids going to school there, and all Aboriginal kids who are going to any of the schools here in town. Our Aboriginal Liaison Unit, the officers are (at DFC) daily. If for nothing else, it’s to try to garner some trust within our service.
Its unfortunate, when I was at the safety forum a couple of weeks ago and heard that NNEC mentioning they had a number of students not coming back because their parents didn’t want to send them because they didn’t feel it was safe. As chief of police I don’t like to hear stuff like that. It tends to be a perception issue though, in a lot of cases.
WWT: Are there any other messages you have for the First Nations community, or Thunder Bay in general, about the relationships here and the feelings that are out there?
JPL: I think its one of those unfortunate things that it took some things to happen that weren’t very positive to make us take a hard look at it and say, OK, we’re not in a spot we should be. What I’m getting from the Aboriginal community is that they want that relationship to be better. As do we. So it took some things that weren’t so positive happening to have people like Alvin Fiddler stepping up and saying we need to do something about this. He organized that safety forum, which will continue. We need to work collaboratively to move forward from this. I understand relationships are strained right now, and I can see them getting better, and I’m really hopeful.
I feel a greater sense of hope and optimism these days for the future when I talk to many of our young First Nation people. There are still many hurdles and...