Dozens of Families Tell Stories of Loss at Thunder Bay Hearing

CTV News
December 05, 2017 08:06 PM

This week, dozens of families in Duluth's Canadian sister city of Thunder Bay are telling stories of loss.

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A national inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is taking testimony in the city.  There are many families to hear from, since nearly one-third of all indigenous hate crime reports in Canada come from Thunder Bay alone.

In a city surrounded by Lake Superior and rivers, it's a shallow spillway that has filled so many lives with sorrow.  Along a popular hiking trail, memorials for lives lost and others that were taken.

"I feel like she's here with me," said Sharon Johnson as she visited the spillway.

Her sister, Sandra, was just 18 when her body was discovered on the frozen spillway. Johnson's killer has never been caught.

"I hope that violence stops. I think that's what we all hope for, that it just stops somehow," Johnson said.

Her 25-year crusade to honor her sister, who had strong ties to her culture and her family, has connected Johnson to many other grieving families, and ultimately led to the inquiry.

"We pushed for that inquiry, we wanted that inquiry so Canada could officially listen," said inquiry Commissioner Michele Audette.

Over several days, as many as 50 families were expected to share their tragedies with commissioners.

"I believe my daughter was abducted and held against her will," said Anita Ross.

Ross' 16-year-old daughter, Delaine Copenace, was missing 24 days before she was discovered, drowned in Lake of the Woods in Kenora.  Despite bruises and abrasions on her arm and head, Ross said police quickly ruled out foul play. 

"They said, 'oh she was pretty intoxicated. she was probably falling and stumbling and banging into objects,'" Ross said at the inquiry Monday.

Investigative indifference has been an ongoing thread in the inquiry hearings in every city across Canada.

In Thunder Bay it's magnified.  The deaths of seven indigenous students brought troubling police practices to light in a recent inquest. There's long been allegations of racism in the city, and police acknowledge it.

"I think there are definite barriers between the police and the people we serve," said Chris Adams with the Thunder Bay Police Service.

"I think people are realizing there a gap between being indigenous culture and the colonial and we have to break that," Adams said.

Thunder Bay Police say they've made changes in how they handle sudden death investigations and how they deal with indigenous families and victims.

More information on the inquiry is available at

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