Thunder Bay
Chapter 3: Deathly Low Priority
Nine teenagers died. There is evidence of foul play. There are suspects. There are motives. There have even been confessions. But nobody has ever been charged. In a town with no consequences, it will happen again.

Previous seasons: Radicals (on hiatus), CORRUPTION, CRUDE and DYNASTIES. Produced by Arshy Mann and Jordan Cornish. Find us on Twitter and Facebook.

October 28, 2018

Nine teenagers died. There is evidence of foul play. There are suspects. There are motives. There have even been confessions. But nobody has ever been charged. In a town with no consequences, it will happen again.

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RYAN:
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RYAN:
School lets out just after 4:00 p.m., and the clock starts ticking. Curfew is at 10 p.m., for you and every other kid at school. You don’t want to go home because home isn’t home.

RYAN:
Home is someone who is paid $500 a month to give you dinner and a bed. You don’t bring friends home to hang out and they don’t bring you. Besides, your friends don’t live anywhere near you or each other. Everyone is scattered throughout the city in a different boarding home. So, you’ve got about six hours. But not really, because first you’ve got to find a grownup to buy the booze. And afterwards it’s going to take an hour or two, and a bus or two buses, and a lot of walking, to get back to your bed.

RYAN:
A runner gets you the liquor in exchange for a few beers. You don’t walk the streets with your backpack of bottles. Too risky. You take the back paths… behind the big box stores. The Silver City movie theatre. The Shoppers Drug Mart. You go across the golf course and through the park.

RYAN:
High fives, jokes, teasing. A huge weight lifts just to be around each other and away from everything else in this place. You keep walking. You’re looking for somewhere safe, somewhere no cars go, where you’ll all be left alone. There are spots like that. Under the bridge, beside the river.

RYAN:
Other friends will know to find you there. And once you get there you drink hard, and you drink fast. You slam back an entire 60 ounce bottle of vodka with a few others and chase it with beers. You smoke, you flirt, you laugh. It’s the best part of the day. It’s all over too quick and you’re drunker than you can handle.

RYAN:
Your friends do their best to prop you up and move you along. They’ll drag you to the bus stop if they have to. And they’ll babysit you as long as they can, sit with you in the Water Street bus station, hold up your head if you get sick. But, eventually, they have to go their way and you go yours. And it’s minus 30. You try to keep it together and just get home. You’re sure as hell not going to ask the cops for a lift. So, you try to stay conscious and you try to stay warm and you just try to keep moving. You can do this. You can get back.

RYAN:
Every year or two, one of you is found in a river.

RYAN:
This is “Thunder Bay.”

MAN:
I think it’s just people being stupid, right? Um, being around there when they’re drinking or whatever, or horse-playing. They end up falling in.

MAN:
Uh, serial killer. Yeah. Because they’ve been, uh… Lived around the, uh, lakes and stuff all their lives, and they come up here and next thing you know they’re found in the river.

MAN:
I’ve never heard of a Native person dying in the water before. Unless there are police there.

WOMAN:
I think there is a possibility that it was foul play. I, I also think it could be just, you know, a result of being drunk by the river bank. So it’s… But, yeah, I, I, I still feel there might be some foul play out there. But I can’t… Once again, we can’t prove that. But we can’t forget it, ever.

RYAN:
Here’s why you don’t have to care about all the Indigenous teenagers who died in Thunder Bay. They were drunk and they fell into the river. It’s tragic, but it’s nobody’s fault.

MAN:
Nobody pushes them into the water. It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not about us mistreating them. There is no racism. It’s about idle hands. When, when, when there’s no places to go, when you have nothing to do in life, you will drink too much. You have nothing to do. Hey, I’m a white collar business guy. If I wasn’t working, I’d be drinking because I like to drink. I like to have fun. They have idle hands.

MAN:
I highly doubt residents of Thunder Bay are pissed off, taking these guys out to the river and dumping them into it. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Like, there’s no group going around looking for these kids to throw in the river or… As far as intentionally putting Native kids in the river… No.

RYAN:
Nine dead kids from up north. Seven of them, found in the rivers. It sounds awful, but that’s nine deaths spread over a period of almost 20 years. It’s not fair to blame Thunder Bay for it. Natives come to town with problems. Even the mayor has said so.

HOBBS:
We can do as much as we can as a municipality and we’ll never fix the problems that First Nations are experiencing. They’re dumped here. A lot of them are lost souls.

RYAN:
They arrive as Lost Souls. Mayor Hobbs has said that by the time reserve kids come here for high school many are already plagued by addiction and abuse. What can you do with kids like that with damaged goods? You try your best, but if they’re determined to act stupid, sure, some of them are going to have bad outcomes.

MAN:
We get calls all the time, um, of people partying down by the rivers, under the bridges and police are always on patrol and trying to deter that kind of behaviour. So, um, it just happens.

RYAN:
You can’t watch them 24 hours a day.

MAN:
The police and the community, we can’t be everywhere. We can’t babysit these children.

RYAN:
Except… Except that to blame it all on pre-existing problems is to ignore what it’s actually like for kids when they first get here. When other outsiders, immigrants, refugees, come to Thunder Bay, faith groups and community organizations welcome them officially with suppers, household items, bus schedules, directions to essential services. Not so, for native youth that come from away. For them, they’re on their own. Andre Lichtenfeld was a Thunder Bay cop for 24 years. You heard him a bit earlier. He remembers what it was like each fall, when the new students would arrive.

LICHTENFELD:
So, when they came to town, myself, personally, I would run into several of the kids. They looked lost. They looked bewildered <chuckles> It didn’t seem like they knew where they were. They were dropped off at the airport with a piece of paper with an address and phone number on it. “This is where you’re staying.” So, they weren’t picked up by their sponsor family. They were just given an address, get there, however means. They had no idea. First time ever in Thunder Bay, they had no idea what… <chuckles> You, know where the street was. They had little cell phones and whatnot, so they were lost. They got the bus downtown and that was it.

RYAN:
Sharon Angeconeb was once one of those kids.

SHARON:
We were more or less just thrown on a plane, that’s it. <laughs> Hope for the best, yeah. Yes that is my first time here in Thunder Bay. I had no idea, so…. Just scared. And a lot of times we didn’t know who the boarding parent were going to be. And we’d get shuffled around. And I remember when I first landed here, I was dropped off. We arrived at the Greyhound. My boarding parents picked me up and the next morning I was supposed to go to school. I didn’t know. They pointed down the street and they said “You’re here, and the bus stop is over there.” Me and the other girl from another community, it was also her first time. We went. We walked around East End, we thought it was so huge. Now I know it’s just a little place. But we walked around for a long time, finally met up with some other kids and so we told them we were lost. And they said “Well, how could you get lost in the East End?” <laughs> But we ended up… They ended up helping us out. You know, you only have your circle of friends that are going to help you.

RYAN:
Sharon made it through. Today, she’s the principal of Dennis Franklin Cromarty High, the Indigenous-run school founded to serve Indigenous kids from up north. Sharon is a boarding parent herself, providing room and roof to some of her students. Several teachers here do that, taking their work home with them. Other students at D.F.C. get to live with relatives, aunts and uncles or cousins who live in town. The rest live with strangers, boarding families who are paid to put them up. Since the inquest, there’s more screening for boarding parents and the school is a lot more connected to them. Sharon says that some of these parents are great. Andre never met the great ones.

LICHTENFELD:
They would advertise in the newspaper all around for families that would take in students, and they would be compensated for it when they come to town. My experience with, with the fam—Well, again, the ones that we ran into as a police officer, would be the ones that, I would say, take advantage of the program. They would be compensated, they’d be looking for the money, but couldn’t give a shit where their kids were. They were supposed to report them if they weren’t in after 11:00 p.m. Some of them haven’t seen them for days.

RYAN:
D.F.C. kids come to Thunder Bay from 48 distant communities scattered over a vast area of Northern Ontario roughly the size of France. When they arrive in Thunder Bay, it’s alienating. It’s not just because it can be their first time living in a predominantly non-Native society. Nor is it just the scale of things, here. These kids are used to communities much like small towns. Now they’re in the city. It’s more than that, though. The alienation can be from each other. These kids grew up in communities hundreds of kilometres away from each other, often speaking completely different languages and dialects.

RYAN:
Some were poor. Some were not. Some are Cree. Some are Ojibwe. Some were raised in homes where their traditional cultures were practiced. Some were raised in homes where the church ruled the roost. Sometimes kids from two totally different reserves will be placed in the same boarding house. A kid might have to wait until school lets out just to find someone who they can relate to.

LICHTENFELD:
The thing is, um, they’re placed all over in homes everywhere. Downtown is where they all meet, so they either take the bus or they walk. They’re on bikes, whatever. They get from one place to another. They go to parties, then they try to find their way back… Back to where they’re supposed to come from. Thunder Bay has so many waterways and whatnot, and we picked up a lot of drunk kids. They don’t know who they are. They don’t even know what their name is, nothing. And they just stagger and go. And I can see it happening. I can see them getting off the bus and just staggering, and before they know it, they’re… They’re in the water.

RYAN:
“They drink, they stagger, and before you know it, they’re in the water.” Whose fault is that? The cops took a lot of blame. They waited too long to declare missing kids “missing,” and actually start the search. The first 48 hours after a kid goes missing are crucial. After that, the chances of finding them, or finding them alive, go way down. But Andre Lichtenfeld doesn’t remember a lot of urgency from the police force when those calls came in.

LICHTENFELD:
Beginning of every shift in the parade room, “Anything new,” “We’re looking for this guy,” and stuff like that… It would start there. “Okay, another missing female. Who would’ve guessed it? Native. Uh, this is her name. Last seen, whatever.” <chuckles> Okay, whatever. Maybe five percent of the people would actually put something in their notebook. The rest of them, “Ah, fuck. Just another missing kid. They’ll show up whenever.” Missing people don’t have a high priority. Native missing people… <scoffs> Fuck, they’re always running around. I’m surprised even their parents would call in that they’re missing, ‘cause most of them don’t. Um, it was definitely low priority.

RYAN:
Would it have mattered? If a drunk kid has an accident and drowns, what difference does it make when you start looking for them? You can’t blame Thunder Bay for accidents. But was Kyle Morriseau’s death an accident?

RYAN:
On the night he went missing, he told this older guy who bought booze for him, Ivan Masakeyash, that he was scared. Kyle said he was in trouble and needed to protect himself. He asked Ivan how he could get a gun. Kyle’s dad, Christian, later found handwritten notes in his deceased son’s bedroom, adding up debts. The handwriting wasn’t Kyle’s. It was later revealed that the coroner found bruises and abrasions on Kyle’s body. His brother Josh still has questions.

RYAN:
My brother had, uh, blood in his throat. That’s just not normal, for him to be submerged in water like that and for the blood to come out. They said that that happened after he died. I really think that was before, before he died. I kind of find that they’re not really telling the truth.

RYAN:
Was Tammy Keeash ‘s death an accident?

FEMALE NEWSCASTER:
Thunder Bay police have now identified the young woman whose body was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway on Sunday evening. But there’s no word yet on whether foul play is suspected in her death. Tammy Keeash was just 17 years old.

RYAN:
Her mother was told by police that Tammy was found drowned in four feet of water. Her body had been discovered by a group of children from a church group who ran and told their pastor, Jesse Hochstetler. APTN spoke to Hochstetler, whose interview contradicted what the police told Tammy’s mom. He said when he came to see Tammy’s body it was face down on thick reeds with no water visible. When he walked towards her, his feet sunk into the marsh and the water rose up to his shins. He said she was partially naked, her pants down around her ankles, and that she was missing a shoe. A matching shoe was found on a nearby hill, next to some empty booze bottles and a black baseball cap.

FEMALE NEWSCASTER:
Police say the results of Cash’s post-mortem examination indicate she died by drowning and there is no evidence of criminality at this time.

RYAN:
What about Jordan Wabasse? Was his death an accident? Before he disappeared on February 7th, 2011, a different kid with a similar name, Jordan Waboose, was known to be in debt to a local drug dealer for $8,000. Waboose’s mother later said her Jordan was afraid of the native syndicate gang. She thought that gang members killed Jordan Wabasse because they had mixed him up with her son. Jordan Waboose said so, too, in Facebook messages he sent to a friend. Then a rumor made its way to the cops. Some local kid had been mouthing off, bragging. He said that he and some friends had chased Jordan Wabasse from Mary Street onto the river’s ice, where he fell through. Kids in town still swear this is true.

GIRL:
I know Jordan Wabasse got thrown in the river. I know that for goddamn sure. So, there was a… I know that, at the river over here, that he was pretty drunk and he was, uh… He was trying to get away from some people and he actually ran across the ice and he didn’t realize he was running across the ice and he fell in.

RYAN:
Police knew about Jordan Waboose, but didn’t bother talking to him before concluding that there was no foul play in the death of Jordan Wabasse. The coroner’s inquest later overturned that finding, saying that foul play could not be ruled out, and deemed the death “undetermined.” But they did not reopen the investigation.

RYAN:
So we don’t know if Jordan Wabasse was killed because of Jordan Waboose’s drug debts. But if you owe money to the native syndicate and you can’t pay up, well, Rheal Twance worked among incarcerated gang members through a job he held in Corrections. Before that, he sold drugs for many years. He was never in the Native syndicate itself but he knows how gangs settle debts. He’s careful when he talks about it.

RHEAL:
Native syndicate is… There’s a street gang well-known throughout Canada. There’s a few of them here, here in the city. I’m not saying that the youth ended up in the rivers because of that but that’s what happens. They mean what they say. When they want their money, they want their money. But gang activity, drugs, alcohol… Living a life… I probably spent about 13 years of my life as a dealer myself. I almost joined Native Syndicate, and I’m glad I didn’t. But I still respect… I still respect them. I didn’t want to… I didn’t want to share this with myself.

RHEAL:
There were three of us, we were called into the clubhouse and one of the guys owed $2,800 bucks for cocaine. Each one of us had a gun to the back of our head. There was a guy at the other end, got three of his fingers broken, right in front of us. He was given a day-and-a-half to give them their money. I’m not sure what would’ve happened to him if he didn’t, but that afternoon he paid his bill.

RYAN:
Okay, so, maybe they weren’t all accidents. But even so, here’s why you don’t have to care about all those dead native kids. They’re probably just killing each other.

WOMAN:
Well, <sighs> I think as young adults they’re out and experimenting, and I think sometimes, you know, they may get into some adverse situations, perhaps. Just, you know, roughhousing around, something like that. And I just think it’s one of those unfortunate situations where, you know, they’ve just gone wandering, and one person may teach someone to do something that maybe is out of character, and it escalates to a different stage.

WOMAN:
I think a lot of our crime in the city right now is all race-on-race. We bring in people, a lot of people, from Northern communities who have grown up in very uncivilized areas, and we’re throwing them into civilization. They don’t know how to handle it, and so they’re coming here, living here like they would up there. It’s like I said, race-on-race crime. It’s… There’s a lot of gang populations and that’s, that’s all it is. I don’t think there’s… I don’t think there’s a lot of random murders and homicides here. It’s not random it’s all… people. They all know each other. These little gangs that they come here, and they create.

RYAN:
It’s awful. But you can’t blame it on Thunder Bay. It’s not like locals are just walking around throwing teens into the river for being native. Except, what about Darryl Kakekayash?

DARRYL:
I was scared and I… Like I really started thinking that I was going to die.

RYAN:
That’s Darryl. He lives in Round Lake now, a remote fly-in community. We caught him on his cell phone and the reception was lousy, so it’s a bit hard to make out some of what he says but I’ll help. Ten years ago Darryl was a high school student at DFC. One day in October after watching a movie he had less than an hour to make it home before his 10 p.m. youth curfew. The bus to Limbrick runs infrequently. Buses in Thunder Bay seem to always give poorer service to poorer neighbourhoods. So he set off on foot and he took a shortcut on a trail behind some big box stores that cuts through a golf course, and over a cross bridge.

DARRYL:
When I finally got to the golf course there was like a walk bridge that I had to cross, I walked towards it, and there was three guys standing there.

RYAN:
Darrell kept walking. The guys started talking to him. They weren’t Native. One, for sure, was white. The others, he can’t be certain. They asked where he was from. They asked what school he went to. They asked him for cigarettes. He handed some over.

DARRYL:
And then he looked at me again, and he said, “Hey, let me ask you something.” I said, “Yeah, what’s up?” He asked me, “Are you part of a gang or something?” And I’m like, “No. Like, I’m not part of a gang.” And he’s like, “Are you part of NS?”

RYAN:
“Are you NS,” they asked. “Native Syndicate.”

DARRYL:
And I said, “No, I’m not with NS.” So, they go… They go, “It’s just because, uh, of what you’re, of what you’re wearing right now.”

RYAN:
Native Syndicate colors are black and white. Same colors Darryl had been wearing to play volleyball. They didn’t believe him. They asked to check his arms for tattoos. Darryl tried to move on but the three guys surrounded him.

DARRYL:
That’s when I got my first kick towards the back.. Then the guy on the left started throwing his punch towards my face.

RYAN:
While two of them were punching and kicking Darryl, the third guy ran off and came back with a two-by-four. He remembers them calling him a Native piece of shit as he was being beaten.

DARRYL:
It almost looked like a baseball bat but maybe a little bigger. And he made a swing. I kind of lost air after that. I had trouble breathing after he hit me with it.

RYAN:
He fell down. They lifted him back up.

DARRYL:
That’s when they started making their way with me towards the river, and then that’s they threw me in.

RYAN:
And that’s when they threw him in. He got out wet and they threw him in again.

DARRYL:
And I felt it from my chest area. I felt that cold. This was in October.

RYAN:
Darryl remembers distinctly thinking that this was it. He was going to die here. Then he put up one last struggle, leaving his shoes behind as he ran out of the river and into the cold. His attackers chased him down for another minute or two but he got up to the road and flagged down an out-of-service bus. He begged the driver to not call the police. When his mom found out what had happened. She had him pulled from school. He left Thunder Bay. His attackers were never caught. But all of that is just Darrell’s story, right? Well, here’s another story. Eight years later on another chilly October night, Tara Lewis was closing up a restaurant on the south side of Thunder Bay.

TARA:
As we were coming out, we noticed a young man across the street, sorta stumbling towards us and we could see that he was soaking wet, head to toe. He was bleeding from the head and had, you know, a large contusion of some sort on his, on his forehead and, in a nutshell, told us that he had just crawled out of the river because, um, two white men had come down to the river in a blue truck, beat him up, assaulted him and thrown him in the river. He struggled to get out, got out of the river and then noticed that they came back in the truck and they put him back in the river. We said you know we need to, we need to call the police for you. He was very resistant to that. And my impression was he was resistant because he just wanted to get home and he was, um, uncomfortable with the idea of talking to the police.

RYAN:
And here’s yet another story that also has witnesses backing it up. Remember how the police got a tip that Jordan Wabasse may have been killed by the Native Syndicate over someone else’s drug debt? Well they got another tip as well that a kid named Stephen Cole was the one who killed Jordan Wabasse. The police looked into it a bit, and then dropped it totally. But at the coroner’s inquest, two people told the jury that Stephen Cole confessed to them that he had murdered Jordan Wabasse. One of them was Stephen Cole’s friend Riley Freeman. This is a quote from his testimony: “Stephen said that he had pushed Jordan off the bridge. Steven was serious about it and he seemed shaken up and he’s always been getting into fights and things like that. I believed him.” Stephen Cole’s own half brother Kirk Jedyk also testified that Cole confessed to killing Wabasse. This is also a quote: “He told me he killed the kid and pushed him off the bridge for a bag of weed,” Jedyk testified. “He’s my brother and he likes to hurt people.” Stephen Cole denies killing Jordan Wabasse, and has never been charged with the crime. Nobody has been. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to this death, or any of the others. Despite all the reasons to believe that violence played a role, and despite reasons to believe that this violence was not all gang- or drug-related, and despite Darryl Kakekayash’s account of a hate-crime murder attempt, and an independent account, years later, of a shockingly similar attack. And despite a slew of other accounts I haven’t even gotten into, all from Indigenous kids in Thunder Bay who keep telling authorities that they’ve been the target of abduction attempts. Like Jayden Matthews. He gave an interview to Willow Fiddler of APTN shortly after he escaped an attempted kidnapping in June of 2017. He was still pretty shaken up.

JAYDEN:
The worst experience of my life. I was scared.

WILLOW:
Jayden was walking home on the night of Saturday, June 3rd.

JAYDEN:
A black SUV pulled up beside me. One guy came out and a second dude came out.

WILLOW:
He says the men grabbed his left arm and punched him three times in the stomach. They tried to force him into the vehicle. Then he saw a rock.

JAYDEN:
I grabbed it and I threw it at that dude. And then the other dude, I had to bite him. I had no choice, to bite him.

WILLOW:
It was enough to save his life.

JAYDEN:
I thought I was gonna die that night.

WILLOW:
He describes the two passengers of the SUV as white males in their thirties. He didn’t get a look at the driver, who never got out of the vehicle. Last month, police were investigating at least three reports of attempted abductions and more reports of a suspicious male offering rides has also surfaced. Matthew says neither the police, nor the hospital, contacted the family to tell them what happened. She says they don’t trust the city police to investigate because they are First Nations.

RYAN:
So, no, they’re not all accidents. And, yes, it will probably happen again. But here is the real reason why you do not have to care about all the Indigenous teenagers who died in Thunder Bay.

RYAN:
It’s because they’re worth less than other teenagers. That’s a horrible thing to say, but it’s the truth. Native lives are worth less to this country than any others. There is a number, a dollar value, that any society assigns to a child, expressed in terms of the money spent on each child. And here, we spend less on Indigenous children: less on education, less on health care, less on their housing if needed, less on a slew of services. The United Nations Human Development Index: Canada is number six. But First Nations in Canada are sixty-third. You can actually measure how much less we care about Native kids when they are alive. It’s not surprising that we also care less about them when they’re dead.

RYAN:
Since we’re talking numbers, here’s a math question. How many dead teenagers is too many? That sounds rhetorical, but it turns out there is an answer. The answer is seven. When it was one or six, few outside of Thunder Bay even knew this was happening. But once it hit seven, and before it hit nine, it became national news. That’s when the inquest happened. And now the pressure is on local police and government to do something about it. But the responsibility of preventing the next tragedy is a burden nobody wants. Ask Mayor Hobbs about it and he’s quick to shift this burden to others.

HOBBS:
The federal government and the provincial government have to get off their collective asses and fix this problem once and for all. You know the feds have carriage over Indigenous people in this country, and we’re stuck with it.

RYAN:
Mayor Hobbs is eager for anyone else to figure this out. When other mayors and cities across Canada were approached by the vigilante Guardian Angels group with offers to assist local cops in fighting crime, those mayors said “Thanks, but no thanks.” Not Hobbs. He welcomed the Guardian Angels and even did interviews with their local leader, Ian Hodgkinson. Hodgkinson is a burly, tattooed man, a neck-tattooed man, who is a former Mexican-wrestling heavyweight champion from Thunder Bay. He goes by the name Vampiro. Seriously.

HODGKINSON:
Here in Thunder Bay, obviously, you know… Obviously what Mayor Hobbs… We’ve been friends for years. This is a historic moment for the Guardian Angels in Canada because we haven’t been that well received in Canada because of certain situations that happened. So, with the mayor on board, this is a monsterous day for us. I’m still involved, and, uh, another band that I’m involved in, the group is called Insane Clown Posse. They have categorized all of our fans as gang members because of tattoos..

MALE INTERVIEWER:
Oh.

HOBBS:
You were, you were kidnapped twice, I understand.

HODGKINSON:
Three times.

MALE INTERVIEWER:
Kidnapped?

HODGKINSON:
Yeah, I was kidnapped, yeah. Twenty-seven armed militants with AK-47s pointed at me.

MALE INTERVIEWER:
Okay, and, uh, how did you get out of it?

HODGKINSON:
I’m a… I’m a self-defence instructor involved in different systems at a high level.

MALE INTERVIEWER:
Keith, how do you feel about Guardian Angels coming to Thunder Bay?

HOBBS:
Well, I’m excited about it. We need that extra help, and if you look at the jacket and the Guardian Angels safety patrol, that’s what it’s all about. Vampiro, Ian, has volunteered his services and, um, I want to see us accept them.

RYAN:
Vampiro had the intention of body-slamming the segregation, racism and violence out of the city, but it didn’t work. Others have also stepped in. There’s the Bear Clan an indigenous volunteer group that patrols the rivers, looking out for kids and community, and they’re not alone. When and if a kid goes missing, and they’re from the North, it’s not unheard of to have dozens of family members and friends fly into Thunder Bay and start a search party. They’ve long ago stopped waiting for the cops.

RYAN:
At the moment, the best idea anyone can come up with to prevent the next kid from turning up in the river is geo-fencing, 24-hour digital surveillance of teenagers via GPS on free cell phones, tracking their whereabouts and setting off alarms whenever they come too close to a waterway. Geo fencing was developed for livestock, to keep cattle with their herds. But parents are largely on board. Who cares about privacy when it’s life or death?

RYAN:
So, the job of keeping these kids safe is outsourced to volunteer groups, vigilantes or technology. Leadership washes its hands of these kids. It always has. Could City Hall have done anything more to fight the racism that lies at the root of these deaths? The provincial government says that it could have. Ontario Human Rights Commission concluded in the summer of 2018 that civic leadership in Thunder Bay hadn’t done enough to take on anti-indigenous racism. Here’s what Mayor Hobbs had to say about that.

HOBBS:
The Human Rights Commission said that there is no leadership at the top on, uh, this indigenous stuff that’s going on and I just went ballistic. Um, I could write a book on what we’ve tried to accomplish, um, and what we’re accomplishing. So for Human Rights to say there is lack of leadership, they can kiss my ass.

HOBBS:
This is a mayor whose city receives these children every year, whose city is supposed to become their home, and whose city is where they keep dying. Tell him he could have done better with this indigenous stuff… Well, you can kiss his ass.

RYAN:
But here’s the thing. Hobbs has a point. The federal government does have a fiduciary responsibility for all things indigenous. When they neglect that duty, people die. When they neglect that duty, mayors are left dealing with the outcomes. When municipalities complain, they are directed to the province. It’s a jurisdictional juggling act, and it’s been going on for decades while the tragedies pile up and while the Prime Minister says comforting words about reconciliation while wearing beautiful beaded moose hide vests and a smile.

RYAN:
I get why Hobbs is resentful and I get why the voters of Thunder Bay give him and the police and everyone else a pass, no matter what they say or how hard they fail. But in the end the result is, nobody is responsible. Nobody is accountable. It’s no one’s fault. Leadership washes its hands of these kids. It always has.

RYAN:
Human rights lawyer Julian Falconer led the call for the provincial coroner’s office to hold its inquiry into the first seven deaths. On the one hand, the inquiry was a big deal. It finally put questions to the police and others who had ignored and bungled their duties, and it brought national notoriety to Thunder Bay. On the other hand, what did it change? Falconer himself isn’t sure.

FALCONER:
I will say this about Thunder Bay: For all the different examples of tragedies and misconduct by police, leading to deaths or serious injury. When it’s exposed, there is a traditional dance in Canada. It starts with denial. The media pressure increases, The facts become irrefutable and somebody loses their job, and somebody apologizes, and the regular Canadian dance apology happens. It’s almost like… And I don’t mean to make light of this, because these are tragedies. People die and families have losses. But somebody says they’re sorry, and it’s almost like musical chairs. Somebody is left standing and loses their job. And that… And that is expected as part of the Canadian protocol of “we did wrong.”

FALCONER:
Thunder Bay is utterly immune to that level of shame. I have never seen anything like it. I can tell you there are countless examples… Representation on the Seven Youth inquest… That have exposed absolute egregious examples of racism and terrible neglect of indigenous people. It emboldens them. It actually emboldens the bad actors. There are virtually no consequences. The chief of police decided it was time to retire <chuckles> with all of his benefits, after all of the egregious examples on his timing. He was not, in any way, censored. There are no consequences for these people. There is no sense of shame.

RYAN:
So what would it take? What would a leader in this city have to do to lose their job? Next time on “Thunder Bay,” the story of Agnew Johnston.

WOMAN:
Agnew Johnston was a… He was a crown attorney. .

BRIDGET:
Agnew Johnston was a well-known trick he liked to ask young girls.

RYAN:
Thunder Bay is produced by Jesse Brown and hosted by me, Ryan McMahon. This episode was written by me Jesse Brown, Kevin Sexton, and David Crosbie. Additional research by Brigitte Noël. Music by Kris Dirksen. Mixing and sound design by Chandra Bulucon. Additional sound design by Ellie Gordon-Moershel. Our work on this episode was built on journalism by many others, including Willow Fiddler, Jorge Barrera, and Kenneth Jackson of APTN, Jon Thompson of TVO and Jody Porter of CBC. Special thanks to Tanya Talaga, author of “Seven Fallen Feathers,” which tells the story of the youth deaths in Thunder Bay in great detail. We thank her for her time and her help. Special thanks to The Nighttime Podcast for helping spread the word about this show. You should check out that terrific podcast, too. CANADALAND’s managing editor is Kevin Sexton. We investigate, report and podcast with support from listeners like you.

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