Tag Archives: colonialism

Family of Joey Knapaysweet, Cree Youth Killed by Timmins Police, Releases Statement, Calls for Answers

Police in the small northern Ontario city of Timmins, shot and killed 21-year-old Joey Knapaysweet on February 3, 2018. In a context, as is true across Canada, in which police control information about their killings, few details have been provided publicly. Joey Knapaysweet was from the James Bay community of Fort Albany — more than an hour’s flight from Timmins. According to the family statement, he had gone to Timmins to “seek help in dreams for betterment of his life.” On Thursday, February 15, the family released a statement from Fort Albany saying they need answers about why police chose to kill their loved one.

Micheline Knapaysweet expresses her pain:  “I cannot sleep at nights, I need answers. This is my son, my child.” She asks further “What did he do that was so bad that he had to be shot and killed? I am so heartbroken, with so many questions unanswered.”

The Special Investigations Unit, the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario has only said: “There was an interaction between the man and officers, and one of the officers discharged a firearm. The man was struck. He was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead.”

The police killing of Joey Knapaysweet occurred the same weekend as another Cree person from Fort Albany, 62-year-old Agnes Sutherland, died in custody of Timmins police. Their deaths through police interactions, happened as an all-white jury in Saskatchewan was about to acquit white farmer Gerald Stanley in the 2016 killing of a young Cree man, Colten Boushie. The Stanley trial and acquittal brought international attention to white supremacy, colonialism, and racism in Canada and Canadian criminal justice. The Stanley verdict sparked protests across the country against the mistreatment of Indigenous people throughout the justice system in Canada.

Might the deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland spark further actions and calls for systemic transformation. In Timmins a vigil before the Stanley trial verdict brought out at least 100 people. Micheline Knapaysweet has made a dedication to wear a red scarf, Joey Knapaysweet’s favorite color, until the family receives need answers to their questions.

Advertisements

Two Indigenous Victims of Timmins Police in One Weekend: Joey Knapaysweet (21) and Agnes Sutherland (62)

There is growing outrage, and mounting questions, after a deadly weekend in which two Indigenous people were left dead following encounters with Timmins, Ontario, police. Police in the small northern Ontario city shot and killed Joey Knapaysweet, 21, on Saturday, February 3, 2018. Then, on Sunday, February 4, Agnes Sutherland, 62, died in police custody. Both victims were from Fort Albany First Nation, a James Bay community.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents nearly 50 Indigenous communities in northern Ontario, expressed great concern over the two deaths in two days. In his words: “It’s very troubling. The families have a lot of questions” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

 

Deaths at the Hands of Police

Details about both deaths are limited so far. Police control information about their killings and deaths related to their activities. This is a problem across Canada in terms of policing. Police did not release the names of their victims. The names were conformed by multiple other sources, including federal Member of Parliament Charlie Angus.

With regard to the police shooting of Joey Knapaysweet, the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has only said that  there was “an interaction” between officers and the victim and an officer discharged a firearm striking the man.

Agnes Sutherland was arrested at a shelter after having been asked to leave the Timmins District Hospital, where she had sought help. She was taken to a police station and put in a cell on Saturday, the same day Knapaysweet was killed. Later that same evening she was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead late Sunday.

In a statement issued by Indigenous leaders Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of the Mushkegowuk Council, and Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon, serious questions are raised: “It is alleged that when police attended at the scene of the local shelter, Ms. Sutherland was treated roughly while being taken into police custody. She suffered severe complications during her detention” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

 

Systemic Racism and Colonial Legacies

In their statement, Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Solomon and Chief Andrew Solomon call for a timely and thorough investigation. They raise the very real issues of racism in policing and the violence targeted at Indigenous people by police. In their words: “We have seen systemic racism in the city of Thunder Bay, and must now wonder if this is also happening in Timmins” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

Notably, Timmins Mayor Steve Black acknowledged that the deaths at the hands of police had increased racial tensions in the city, though he did not specify. He said: “I don’t believe there’s room for racism in any community. If changes need to be made or things need to be done to improve those relationships, we’re definitely willing to work with our partners on improving those relationships” (quoted in Perkel 2018). No word on whether that includes dismantling settler colonial police forces (or mayoralties). He has, though, condemned people who have spoken out against the police and their actions on social media (CBC News 2018).

 

Health Care Not Cops

According to the Chiefs, both victims had left the remote community of Fort Albany, near Ontario’s James Bay coast, to seek medical care in Timmins. They note in their statement: “Our people must continually leave their families and communities to come to cities to seek services that are not available in their respective communities” (quoted in 2018). The deaths come as an emergency summit is being held in Timmins by the Mushkegowuk Council this week. The regional James Bay government declared a state of emergency in November, concerned over the growing number of drugs and alcohol coming into its seven member communities (CBC News 2018).

Sutherland’s son, Glen Sutherland, told the Timmins Daily Press that his mother was a survivor of the notorious St. Anne’s residential school. He said that she needed a wheelchair to get around, and questioned the actions of hospital staff. She was using a wheelchair at the time of her arrest. Glen Sutherland said that her frequent trips to the emergency room were a cry for help (Perkel 2018). She was a mother of six with six great grandchildren.

The mistreatment at hospitals of Indigenous people seeking medical assistance has been a disturbing, and too common, issue in various locations in Canada, including infamous cases in Winnipeg, Manitoba that have gained some national attention. It speaks to ongoing legacies of colonialism and racism in Canada.

 

Conclusion

A vigil in Timmins for Knapaysweet on Tuesday, February 6, drew around 100 people. Chief Andrew Solomon is calling on the Attorney General of Ontario and the Minister of Community Safety to investigate the Timmins Police (CBC News 2018).

Police and criminal justice systems more broadly in Canada disproportionately target Indigenous people and disproportionately target them for violence. Criminal justice systems, including police forces, were founded as instruments of settler colonialism, occupation, dispossession, and displacement and this must always be front and center in discussions of policing in the country.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2018. “First Nations Chiefs ‘Shocked’ by Timmins Deaths.” CBC News. February 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/indigenous-chief-respond-timmins-1.4525074

Perkel, Colin. 2018. “Two Indigenous Deaths Linked to Police in Timmins, Ont., has Sparked Sorrow, Anger.” Toronto Star. February 7. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/02/07/two-indigenous-deaths-linked-to-police-in-timmins-ont-has-sparked-sorrow-anger.html


Inquest Set for In-Custody Death of Ina Matawapit of North Caribou Lake First Nation after Lengthy Delay

After five years, a date has finally been set for the inquest into the death in police custody of 37-year-old Ina Matawapit, at the Weagamow Lake Nursing Station in North Caribou Lake First Nation, in northern Ontario. Matawapit died on June 7, 2012 after a transfer from a police vehicle while in custody. Matawapit’s case was one of several that have been egregiously delayed due to widespread problems with Indigenous representation on jury rolls. This ongoing, entrenched problem has characterized criminal justice systems and inquests in the Canadian state context. At least 20 cases in Ontario have been delayed by province’s jury roll problems.

The inquest into Matawapit’s death is mandatory under the Coroners Act because she was in custody at the time. The inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding her death by hearing from about 10 witnesses over the scheduled six days of proceedings. Dr. Michael Wilson will be presiding coroner during the inquest which is scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM on February 12, 2018 at the Days Inn in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.


Person Killed by Alberta RCMP Identified as 26-Year-Old Cree Man, Cavin Poucette

Family members have identified 26-year-old Cavin Poucette as the person shot and killed by Alberta RCMP on the morning of October 19, 2017, in the town of Gleichen, victim of Thursday morning’s shooting in the town of Gleichen, east of Red Deer. Poucette has been identified by friends as a “proud Cree” originally from Morley on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

The incident that resulted in the killing started when two RCMP officers conducted a traffic stop near the intersection of Haskayne Avenue and Gleichen Street, for reasons not yet disclosed publicly. It ended when an RCMP officer shot Mr. Poucette, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Relatives later recognized Poucette and his vehicle within the crime scene tape and publicly identified him as the victim.

Family members have some serious questions about the killing. Gildas Storm, Poucette’s uncle, said to CTV Calgary: “They should tell us what’s going on. All they say is they don’t know who that is and they don’t know who… That’s my nephew!” (quoted in White 2017).

He continued in frustration: “Cops stopped us here and they said that ASIRT was going to get ahold of us. They’re driving all over the damn reserve trying to find people. We’re right here. If ASIRT wants to find the family, we’re right here” (quoted in White 2017).

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is investigating.

 

Further Reading

White, Ryan. 2017. “Friends and Family Mourn Man Fatally Shot by RCMP in Gleichen.” CTV News. October 21. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/friends-and-family-mourn-man-fatally-shot-by-rcmp-in-gleichen-1.3643126

 


Saskatchewan RCMP Shoot and Kill 22-Year-Old Indigenous Man, Brydon Bryce Whitstone (Oct. 21, 2017)

Saskatchewan RCMP shot and killed 22-year-old Brydon Bryce Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation around 9 PM on the evening of Saturday, October 21, 2017, in North Battleford.

RCMP have reported that they received a call from a man, saying he had been chased and shot at from a vehicle.  Police located the suspected vehicle and gave pursuit until they immobilized the vehicle. During their interaction with the driver shots were fired injuring a man inside the vehicle.  The victim, now identified as Brydon Bryce Whitstone, was pronounced dead at around 9:40 PM, while en route to hospital.

RCMP also report that a woman inside the vehicle suffered minor injuries. She was taken to hospital, but then released into police custody. Neither her condition nor the specific reason she was taken into custody have been reported publicly at this time. Neither has it been reported publicly how many shots were fired by RCMP officers. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.

There is no independent investigative unit In Saskatchewan to examine cases of police harm to civilians in the province. RCMP Chief Superintendent Maureen Levy has reported that the Regina Police Service is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Whitstone by RCMP officers.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice will also appoint what it calls an independent observer to oversee the investigation, but such observers are almost always former police officers, so in no way independent. Justice Ministry spokesman Drew Wilby explained at a news conference that in cases were an independent observer is requested, the ministry appoints someone such as a former police officer. Yet, Wilby suggested, incredulously, that, “This individual will not be connected to the RCMP.” But it could well be a fellow officer so no claims of independence have any credibility.

Saskatchewan RCMP are a directly colonial military force. It remains a force of settler colonial military occupation of Indigenous lands and has an ongoing history of violence against Indigenous people and communities.


RCMP Assume Indigenous Man Having Stroke is Drunk: Inquest into Paul Kayuryuk Death

Between July 24 and July 27, 2017,  coroner’s inquest in Baker Lake, Nunavut, examined the death in jail of Paul Kayuryuk in October 2012 and concluded that police must “challenge assumptions” about intoxication in Inui communities. This after necessary medical attention was not provided Kayuryuk after RCMP jailed the man, who was having a stroke, on the assumption that he was drunk.

RCMP took Kayuryuk into custody after he was found unconscious at the landfill in Baker Lake.  Kayuryuk was observed overnight by three different guards and remained unconscious. It was only at midday the following day that a medical examination was ordered as a result of information received from the family. Kayuryuk was diabetic and the doctor and nurses at the local health center determined that he was experiencing a serious stroke. He was medivacked to Winnipeg but died there two weeks later from complications from the stroke.

Six jurors made 17 recommendations. Among them:

Cultural sensitivity training for officers and providing prisoners access to Inuktitut translators;  Seeking family insights and acting on the side of health care rather than presumed intoxication when in doubt.

Nunavut’s Chief Coroner Padma Suramala will present the recommendations to the RCMP who are under no obligation to observe them. This is one of several coroners’ inquests examining harm to Indigenous people by police with implications of racism and racist stereotyping of people seeking or in need of medical care.


The Death of Debra Chrisjohn: Racism and Police Violence Against Indigenous Women

Nearly a year after the death of Debra Chrisjohn in police custody, and even after the filing of charges against police officers responsible, Constable Mark McKillop of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Constable Nicholas Doering of the London Police Service, many issues remain unaddressed and unanswered about police actions in her arrest, detention, and death. Beyond the specific actions undertaken by police, the circumstances of Chrisjohn’s death raise issues of police racism and violence against Indigenous people and communities.

Debra Chrisjohn (39) of the Oneida Nation of the Thames was arrested on September 7, 2016. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, announced on July 13, 2017, that constables McKillop and Doeriing have been charged with one count each of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Both had contact with Chrsijohn on the day she died. The family has received few facts about the death of their loved one beyond this.

The family wants to know why the officers did not seek medical attention for their loved one when it became apparent that she needed help. Debra Chrisjohn’s father Robert Chrisjohn, asks: “Why didn’t the police take her to the hospital sooner when they knew she was sick and needed help? The police arrested her and were responsible for making sure she was okay. This happens way too often in our community. This happens all the time. The police just don’t seem to care” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)

Caitlyn Kasper, of Toronto’s Aboriginal Legal Services, claims that police had enough information available to deal with Debra Chrisjohn’s case in a different way. For example, police knew that Chrisjohn had a documented history of both substance abuse and mental illness. At the time of her arrest and detention on September 7, 2017, there were clear indications that Chrisjohn was in need of medical attention, not time in police custody

The family and community advocates insist that any discussion related to the actions of these officers in this case must address the troubling behaviors of police forces across Canada in dealing with Indigenous communities. This is, of course, an ongoing history of colonial violence and brutality. In the words of Caitlyn Kasper: “What happened to Debra is not an isolated incident. It is very obvious that it isn’t these types of issues just in London or the Oneida First Nation. It’s a concern we hear about in Toronto, all across Ontario and all across Canada” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)

.According to Kasper, the case against the officers must focus on what she terms the “foundational relationship” between police and Indigenous people across the Canadian state (McQuigge 2017). Kasper notes the ongoing questions of police responsibility in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Many believe that police have been purposefully negligent in investigating those cases. Others suggest that police are themselves involved in the killings and disappearances of Indigenous women. Samantha Doxtator, a friend of the victim, has stitched together traditional moccasin vamps to commemorate Debra Chrisjohn and is sending them to be included in an art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.

Giselle Dias, an area psychotherapist who has spent 25 years working for prisoners’ rights, insists it be acknowledged that Indigenous and marginalized communities are most impacted by the criminal justice system in Canada. She agrees that Chrisjohn’s death points fundamentally to the a systemic issue of over-policing and mistreatment within racialized communities (Ghonaim 2017). And she is rightly not optimistic about the court process offering any redress. In her words: “Just because these police officers have been charged, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be found guilty. I will not rest assured” (quoted in Ghonaim 2017).

In case after case this truth remains. The system protects itself and that includes protecting killer cops.

 

Further Reading

Ghonaim, Hala. 2017. “Family of Indigenous Woman Who Died in Police Custody Seeks Answers and Justice.” CBC News. July 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/family-of-indigenous-woman-who-died-in-police-custody-wants-justice-1.4204624

McQuigge, Michelle. 2017. “Charges Point to Police-Indigenous Tensions.” Sudbury Star. July 15. http://www.thesudburystar.com/2017/07/15/charges-point-to-police-indigenous-tensions