Indigenous man’s family seeking firing of Thunder Bay, Ont. cop for role in death probe

Thunder Bay police file photo. The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon

The family of an Indigenous man found dead in a river wants a Thunder Bay, Ont., police officer at the centre of a disciplinary hearing to be fired for conducting an investigation that’s been declared negligent and tainted by racism and unconscious bias.

The second and final day of the Police Services Act hearing began Wednesday with submissions on potential penalties for Staff Sgt. Shawn Harrison, ranging from a reduction in rank to being fired for his role in investigating the death of Stacey DeBungee.

A passerby spotted DeBungee in the McIntyre River in October 2015 and within a few hours the Thunder Bay Police Service put out a statement before an autopsy was conducted calling the death non-suspicious, and the next morning the force said the death “non-criminal.”

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Police attributed DeBungee’s death — which occurred during a coroner’s inquest into how police had responded to the mostly river-related deaths of seven young Indigenous people — to accidental drowning while drunk.

In July, an adjudicator found Harrison guilty of neglect of duty and discreditable conduct in a 119-page decision that found the officer’s unconscious bias led him to conduct a grossly deficient investigation and fail to treat DeBungee’s death without discrimination.

Asha James, a lawyer for DeBungee’s family, says the investigation has put strain on an already problematic relationship between the force and Thunder Bay’s Indigenous community, and they are seeking Harrison’s termination as the community has lost confidence in his ability to carry out police duties without bias.

Harrison’s lawyer, David Butt, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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