Northern Ontario First Nation seeks answers to teen's death from probe of Thunder Bay police

A councillor from a fly-in First Nation in northwestern Ontario says he’s looking to the ongoing review of Thunder Bay police to hopefully shed some light on a tragedy from 17 years ago.

Mike Morris, from Kasabonika Lake First Nation, was in Thunder Bay on Monday, attending an open forum on police-Indigenous relations, which was part of the Ontario Independent Police Review Director’s probe into allegations of systemic racism in the local force.

The family of Jethro Anderson, as well as his home community of Kasabonika Lake, still want to know how the 15-year-old ended up in Thunder Bay’s Kaministiquia River in November, 2000. Jurors at the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students deemed his death undetermined.

“[Jethro’s] mother and the family have been wanting to find some answers as to exactly what happened to Jethro and to date, we haven’t found any answers that the family’s comfortable with,” Morris told CBC News. “I’m hoping that this process will open that up.”

Chronologically, Anderson’s was the first of the seven students’ deaths that were the subject of the months-long inquest in Thunder Bay that wrapped up in June, 2016. The proceedings also examined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Curran Strang, 18, Robyn Harper, 19, Paul Panacheese, 21, Reggie Bushie, 15, Kyle Morrisseau, 17 and Jordan Wabasse, 15.

The Thunder Bay police investigations into the students’ deaths are part of the dozens that are being scrutinized by the ongoing review, a spokesperson for the police review director confirmed. During the inquest, Anderson’s family raised concerns about the police response when he was reported missing, concerns that Morris echoed on Monday.

The inquest jury’s ruling was tough to accept “after old wounds were opened up again,” Morris said. “We still don’t have the answers.”

Gerry McNeilly, the independent police review director, said his probe isn’t reinvestigating cases themselves, rather it’s pouring over documents and interviewing officers to determine whether they’re being carried out the same way, regardless of the background of the person whose death or disappearance is being investigated.

Morris said it’s important for him to keep tabs on what’s happening with the review, so he can keep Anderson’s family and community informed.

“What happened to Jethro affected the whole community and he’s got family here in Thunder Bay that still has problems with not knowing what really happened to him,” Morris said.

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