A long-awaited inquest in Thunder Bay into the deaths of seven aboriginal young people that was set to begin in the fall has been halted, due to ongoing problems with the lack of native representation on the local jury roll.
According to Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (PACY), and Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, the office of Ontario’s Chief Coroner recently sent them correspondence indicating that the inquest into the deaths of Reggie Bushie, Jethro Anderson, Jordan Wabasse, all 15 years old, along with 17-year-old Kyle Morriseau, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, both 18, and Paul Panacheese, 21, is being put on hold, and there will be a public examination of Thunder Bay’s 2015 jury roll.
No date for the resumption of the inquest has been given.
In fact, the coroner ordered that no inquests in Thunder Bay should be held at this time because of the roll problems, according to PACY.
The jury rolls are lists used to pick jury panels for inquests and jury trials. Rolls are supposed to be prepared the previous year.
According to Christa Big Canoe, a lawyer and director at Aboriginal Legal Services, which is representing the families of six of the seven youths, the coroner’s office is relying on a court decision this past April in the Wabason case in Thunder Bay.
A trial for Shaldon Wabason on charges of second-degree murder and breaking-and-entering was set to start in April in Thunder Bay, but was stayed for a year after a judge in the Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay ruled that Wabason’s Charter rights were breached because the Crown failed to make “reasonable efforts” to meet its obligations regarding First Nations representation on the jury list.
In ordering the stay, the Thunder Bay judge ruled that the jury in next year’s trial for Wabason be chosen from the 2015 roll.
Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), a political organization for 49 northern First Nations, stopped the Bushie inquest (it was initially just about Bushie, but was later expanded to include the other six young people) process in 2009 and took the province to court concerning questions regarding aboriginal participation.
In March 2011, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled NAN was right. The court said the Ontario coroner’s office was not “forthcoming about how the roll was established” and that native families’ request to find out how the jury was selected was reasonable yet they consistently got the “runaround.”
All but one of the youths, Robyn Harper, drowned.
The teens were forced to leave their northern reserves to go to high school in the city because there was no school for them in their home communities.