A indigenous teenager in Ontario has filed a complaint against the local police department, alleging that police officers who stopped her on the street and demanded identification were aggressive and intimidating.
Cheyanne Moonias, 18, filed the complaint with Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director. She said that on her way back to school from lunch on Sept. 10, two police officers stopped her and first asked for identification, then allegedly said they were going to search her for drugs, the CBC reports:
"He looked like he was already going to grab me, he had his handcuffs out," [Moonias] said. "I kept saying 'no, I'm just a girl who was trying to get to school.' I was crying too."
Moonias said she asked if she could go, but was told to "stay put" or she would be arrested.
She asked again and the police "finally said 'we will let you go, but this is not over,'" Moonias said. "They sounded so aggressive. I walked back to class. I felt so terrified."
Moonias lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario to attend school, according to the CBC, more than 300 miles away from her family in the remote indigenous community of Neskantaga. For many indigenous (or "First Nations," as many indigenous communities are called in Canada) children, attending high school hundreds of miles away from their families is their only option to get an education because of a lack of resources in their own communities.
Thunder Bay Police Service spokesperson Chris Adams told the CBC in a statement, "Officers will from time to time, have the need to speak with members of the public. The Thunder Bay Police Service does not arbitrarily stop persons to collect personal information."
This complaint against the Thunder Bay police force comes in the lead-up to an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations youths in Thunder Bay in the course of a decade, from 2000 to 2011. The inquest was announced by Ontario's Chief Coronoer, Dirk Huyer, and begins Oct. 5. It will examine the causes of death of the students—who ranged in age from 15 to 21 when they died—and whether police properly investigated their deaths. The causes of death recorded for six of the students was drowning, while the seventh is recorded as having asphyxiated.
“In 2000, we lost Jethro Anderson, who was only 15 years old. Since then, six more young people have been lost,” Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a group of 49 aboriginal communities from Ontario, told the Toronto Star.
The inquest is also tasked with coming up with recommendations on how indigenous youth attending schools far from their homes can be protected. There are 617 First Nation communities in Canada, according to the Canadian government, 126 of which are based in Ontario.
“Why should families have to send their children hundreds of kilometres to attend high school? Why should communities end up so underfunded that they have to lose their children in order for their children to get basic education? And what kind of supports exist out there once they have to send their children hundreds of kilometres away? These are key questions,” Julian Falconer, a lawyer representing the indigenous communities, told the Toronto Star.
The Thunder Bay Police Service did not respond to a request for further comment.
"What I'm really hopeful for is that this will allow a number of questions to be answered for the families, for the communities and hopefully for some recommendations that will help to reduce the chances of future, similar deaths," Huyer told CBC.