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Something must be done about the Thunder Bay police

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In October 2015, Stacy DeBungee, an Ojibway man from the Rainy River First Nation, was pulled from Thunder Bay’s McIntyre River. His name was added to the likes of Jethro Anderson, Reggie Bushie, Robyn Harper, Kyle Morriseau, Paul Panacheese, Curran Strang, Jordan Wabasse and others­­—all of whom were found dead in the same city under suspicious circumstances, and all of whom, young and Indigenous, were the subject of a months-long coroner’s inquest in 2016.

The Thunder Bay Police Service mishandled DeBungee’s investigation, declaring it “non-criminal” before an autopsy, hours after his body was recovered, and failed to follow important leads that suggested his debit card had been used after his death, according to a report that came out earlier this year from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which oversees complaints about police in Ontario.

Following the case, the OIPRD launched an investigation into the Thunder Bay police force’s conduct. “One would have reasonably expected that investigators would be particularly vigilant in ensuring that the investigation of the sudden death of an Indigenous man found in the river was thorough and responsive to the community’s concerns,” the report read. “Unfortunately, the opposite was true here.”

The report confirmed what First Nations people in the northern Ontario city had already worried—that police devalued their lives. “It’s obvious in this case that somebody made the assumption that it’s just another drunk Indian rolling in the river,” said Rainy River’s former chief. DeBungee’s death, along with the concerns and complaints that shadowed the botched investigation, launched another two-year probe into the police force’s handling of Indigenous deaths over several years.

READ MORE: The troubles in Thunder Bay should trouble all Canadians

On Wednesday, in front of a room of concerned citizens that cheered with each profound revelation, the OIPRD released the findings of its latest unprecedented report. And a dark conclusion was reached: systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service. “The failure to conduct adequate investigations and the premature conclusions drawn in these cases is, at least in part, attributable to racist attitudes and racial stereotyping,” wrote Gerry McNeilly, the head of the OIPRD. “Officers repeatedly relied on generalized notions about how Indigenous people likely came to their deaths and acted, or refrained from acting, based on those biases.”

McNeilly examined allegations of racism within the force pertaining to its dealings with Indigenous victims and families, describing a long-fractured relationship—a “crisis of distrust”—between Thunder Bay’s police and First Nations people. He looked at more than three dozen investigations into the deaths of Indigenous men and women dating back to 2009, including the names of the seven students involved in that 2016 coroner’s inquest.

McNeilly notes in the report that the findings do not suggest all Thunder Bay officers engaged in “intentional racism,” instead he found that “systemic racism exists at an institutional level.”

Perhaps more alarming, the report calls for “at least” nine cases to be reopened and reinvestigated, a number that includes four of the death investigations from the 2016 inquest.

McNeilly pointed to a lack of expertise, experience, training and a “neglect of duty” among investigators and officers, compounded by a careless disregard when handling autopsy reports and case files. He noted that a lack of communication with other police forces has often led to Thunder Bay police officers working in “silos.”

RELATED: Inside the impossible work of Canada’s biggest Indigenous police force

The report makes 44 recommendations, many of which are reiterations from previous reports and inquests that the Thunder Bay police force has somewhere in its offices. And there will be one more soon: Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is investigating the Thunder Bay Police Services Board on behalf of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

In addition to the nine reinvestigations, it makes clear that a team should be formed to determine whether DeBungee’s case and others should be reopened. Among some of the more pertinent suggestions, the city’s police department is urged to undergo a “peer-review process” by another force for at least three years, to contract out some of its investigations, to improve almost every facet of its operation and for its leaders to “publicly and formally acknowledge that racism exists at all levels within the police service.”

The problems for the city’s police force go beyond its investigations involving Indigenous people. Its former police chief, J.P. Levesque, was charged with obstructing justice and breaching trust in 2017 (the charges were dismissed earlier this year). Levesque returned to work and retired in April. Over the years, Levesque had heard repeated calls from First Nations leaders to step down. Sylvie Hauth, the former deputy chief, took over the role in November, despite a nationwide search for a new boss.

In response to this week’s report, Hauth said in a statement: “I take this report very seriously. I have been very upfront in terms of my commitment and dedication about where we stand on the reconciliation process. Trust is very important and regaining that trust has been at the forefront of my new role.” She added that the force has “introduced a number of initiatives” over the past two years. Those include better community policing and efforts to recruit Indigenous officers.

“This report is as tragic as it is unsurprising, and it reinforces what First Nations have been saying for years—systemic racism is clearly something that needs to be addressed in a profound and substantial manner,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

The city of Thunder Bay is at an impasse. A decision will inevitably have to be made about what to do next because the question in front of its council is unambiguous.

If the problem within its police force is systemic, if it’s rooted at all levels within the department, then is the Thunder Bay Police Service worth keeping in its current form? Does the force need to be entirely reorganized and reimagined from the bottom up? And would that even go far enough to address the depth of the problem in Thunder Bay? Julian Falconer, the lawyer for the DeBungee family and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nation communities in northern Ontario, said if the police force doesn’t implement all of the recommendations in three years, it should be disbanded.

The threat of violence and racism also goes beyond the men and women in uniform. In 2015, one-third of the hate crimes directed at Indigenous people in Canada occurred in Thunder Bay, according to Statistics Canada. Nearly 13 per cent of its roughly 110,000 residents are Indigenous. Last year, a trailer hitch thrown from a moving vehicle took the life of Barb Kentner, a member of the Waabigon Saaga’igan Anishinaabeg (Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation). It’s not the last horrifying incident to grab national headlines, and seems tragically unlikely to be the last.

Chiefs have tried to convince the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the deaths of Indigenous people before. Vested with the responsibility to “serve and protect,” police officers in Thunder Bay have failed to fulfill this duty for a vulnerable segment of its population, and Wednesday’s report, fittingly titled “Broken Trust,” will do anything but reconcile the racism and discrimination they’ve encountered at the hands of law enforcement over the years.

In the OIPRD’s interviews with Thunder Bay police officers, some “exhibited a contempt bordering on hostility toward Indigenous people.” Their views are described in the report as “very disturbing” and they were expressed by “more than a few bad apples.” If that’s the case, then perhaps it’s time the city of Thunder Bay look elsewhere.

CORRECTION, DEC. 13, 2018: An earlier version of this story stated that all of the victims in the 2016 coroner’s inquest were found in Thunder Bay’s McIntyre River. In fact, only Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morriseau and Curran Strang were recovered there.

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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