Blue Line

Joint inquest begins into deaths of two Indigenous men in Thunder Bay police custody

October 11, 2022  By The Canadian Press

Oct. 11, 2022, Thunder Bay, Ont. – A coroner’s joint inquest begins this morning into the deaths of two Indigenous men who died while in the custody of Thunder Bay police.

Don Mamakwa, 44, died on Aug. 3, 2014, and Roland McKay, 50, died on July 20, 2017.

Both were arrested for suspicion of public intoxication and were being held at Thunder Bay Police Services headquarters when they lost vital signs.

Neither men were assessed by a nurse or doctor and both died from medical illness.


The inquest is expected to explore the circumstances of Mamakwa and McKay’s deaths, as well as how racism, bias and stereotyping may have been factors in first responders’ interactions with them.

It will also assess the goals and appropriateness of taking intoxicated people into police custody, and explore alternatives including the use of sobering centres or hospitals.

The inquest is expected to last 17 days, and approximately 31 witnesses are expected to testify.

Legal counsel for the Thunder Bay chief of police and several of the force’s officer put forward a motion in January 2021 arguing certain cell blocks videos should be excluded from evidence. The footage depicts police bringing another Indigenous man, Dino Kwandibens, into custody for public intoxication on the same night Mamakwa was arrested and later found dead.

Presiding coroner David Cameron dismissed arguments that the videos are not relevant to the inquest’s scope earlier this year, stating that another Indigenous man almost simultaneously experiencing similar treatment to Mamakwa may suggest systemic issues that need to be addressed to prevent further deaths.

According to Cameron’s ruling, Thunder Bay police officers can be seen in the video dragging Kwandibens to his cell. They can also be heard calling him derogatory names.

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