Bear Clan patrols Thunder Bay to protect city's most vulnerable
Published Thursday, December 7, 2017 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 7, 2017 10:07PM EST
When night falls in Thunder Bay, Ont., a team of Indigenous volunteers begins patrolling the streets in search of the city’s most vulnerable.
They call themselves the Thunder Bay Bear Clan Patrol, and their mission is simple: to help protect the homeless and other groups from violence in the community’s most dangerous neighbourhoods.
Earlier this week, CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief joined the group on their nightly patrol. Each member said they’d experienced discrimination on the streets, like racist insults and even being pelted by eggs.
Volunteer Kristen Redsky said she was once nearly abducted by a taxi driver.
“So I kind of wanted to help out in any way and volunteer and be extra eyes,” Redsky told CTV News.
In the past two years, an influx of drugs and sex trafficking has made the city’s downtown more dangerous. New gangs, which are believed to have come from Toronto and Ottawa, are fighting over what they consider a lucrative northern market for drugs. It’s also meant that more Indigenous women are being forced into the sex trade.
Thunder Bay Police Service spokesperson Chris Adams said officers are aware of the problem.
“It’s fair to say in the last couple of years that there’s been more of a heightened awareness of human trafficking and there’s been more training for the officers. And it’s definitely something we’re concerned about,” Adams said.
As police crack down on crime, the Bear Clan Patrol slowly combs the streets by car, using a headlight to scan the darkness. They regularly drive past the train tracks looking for anyone who may have been beaten and abandoned.
The Bear Clan first formed in Winnipeg after 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was murdered and dumped in the city’s Red River. At the time, the group was part of a movement to make the streets safer for Indigenous people.
Similar concerns inspired the group to form in Thunder Bay. At least eight Indigenous students who moved to the city for schools were found dead in recent years, and most of their bodies were found in a nearby river.
In January, an Indigenous woman walking down the street was struck by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. She was with her sister at the time, who said she heard someone from the vehicle say “I got one” after she was hit.
Barbara Kentner suffered life-threatening injuries and died six months after the incident.
An investigation is underway into the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, which has been accused by Indigenous leaders of failing to adequately address concerns about the teen deaths. Sen. Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is leading the probe.
The Thunder Bay Bear Clan Patrol hopes that their work not only makes the streets safer, but also helps change perceptions.
“We go out there with our positivity and that’s what we get back, positivity,” volunteer Ivory Tuesday said.
With a report from CTV’s Mantioba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon