THUNDER BAY – The new mayor is adamant Thunder Bay’s national reputation as one of the country’s most racist cities isn't justified, despite a video depicting a city police officer allegedly slapping a restrained Indigenous teen.
The video, which was posted on social media over the weekend and has captured national attention, shows a female Thunder Bay Police Service officer engaged in a physical altercation with an individual on a gurney, with the officer appearing to slap the person.
Police said in a statement Monday they responded to an Egan Street residence on Saturday night to assist paramedics attend to an injured woman, who was taken to hospital. While on scene, officers found an intoxicated 17-year-old and the video depicted the subject officer and the teen in physical contact.
The officer then appears to yell “that’s enough” and “you do not spit on me” at the individual on the gurney.
Thunder Bay mayor Bill Mauro, asked about the video on Monday night immediately following his swearing in ceremony, said he doesn’t believe Thunder Bay is alone.
“We all acknowledge our challenges but we can’t ever be backed into a corner so that people believe Thunder Bay is the only city that has these challenges,” Mauro said, pointing to a recent Toronto Star article that reported there were more than 2,000 hate crimes in Canada last year, with the majority targeting the black, Muslim and Jewish communities.
“There are challenges that exist in all municipalities. It bothers me to no end that for whatever reason – and there are a variety of reasons – that Thunder Bay has been painted this way.”
Mauro, who has indicated he intends to sit in the position designated for the mayor on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, said he understands the incident is being investigated and intends to leave it to police to do that work.
“We know that police are held to a higher standard. We know in this community that police and our first responders have a very, very difficult job,” Mauro said.
Police said the subject officer is off duty and has been served with a notice of investigation in accordance with the Police Services Act. According to the statement, police chief Sylvie Hauth ordered an immediate investigation and shares the community’s concerns.
The video has been viewed thousands of times since being posted to Facebook late Saturday night.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation leadership, who in a statement on Sunday said the individual on the gurney is a 17-year-old female student of the Matawa Learning Centre, condemned police action and have demanded an independent investigation.
“We are outraged by the actions of the officer depicted in this video. We do not know all of the details that led to this incident, but there is simply no justification for such violent and callous treatment of a youth in such a defenseless position,” NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also spoke out about the incident.
A proper investigation into this incident must occur if the Thunder Bay Police Force wants to restore its credibility among First Nations in the area. A restrained person is in a most vulnerable state and should not be assaulted by an officer. https://t.co/fxCMaSNXF7— Perry Bellegarde (@perrybellegarde) December 3, 2018
MP Charlie Angus (NDP, Timmins-James Bay) on Twitter said the Seven Youth Inquest revealed harrowing testimony of police abuse against Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay.
“The latest video scandal of a police officer alleging slapping a youth tied to a gurney is unacceptable,” Angus tweeted. “We must stand up to protect the youth.”