Sol Mamakwa MPP for Kiiwetinoong

Government of Ontario

Mamakwa calls for immediate action to save lives at Thunder Bay and Kenora jails

Published on July 2, 2020

SIOUX LOOKOUT - Inmates and staff who face appalling conditions at the Thunder Bay and Kenora jails cannot afford to wait years in the future for the Ford government to take action, said Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa.

Mamakwa, the NDP Official Opposition critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, issued the following open letter to the Ford government’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, asking her to take immediate action to prevent future tragedies at the jails.


The Honourable Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General
Ministry of the Solicitor General
George Drew Building, 18th Floor
25 Grosvenor St, Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6
By email: [email protected]

RE: Conditions at the Thunder Bay and Kenora jails

June 30, 2020:

Dear Minister Jones,

I am writing to you today seeking your commitment as the Solicitor General to save lives at the Thunder Bay and Kenora jails.

When it comes to these jails, inaction is violence.

Too many inmates have already died to leave things as they are one day longer. You must act now to prevent future tragedies.

Colonialism and systemic racism have caused generations of trauma. Instead of providing help for Indigenous people, governments simply watch as more and more Indigenous young people are sent to jail. This is the systemic racism that Indigenous people face beginning in their youth and throughout their lives: Not enough health care, but jail. Lack of clean drinking water, but jail. Few jobs, but jail.

Today in Northwestern Ontario the conditions of the Thunder Bay and Kenora jails are nothing less than inhumane.

Ontario’s Ombudsman described the conditions in these jails as “disturbing” and “appalling” going on to describe his visit to the Thunder Bay District Jail: “It’s heart-wrenching to see the conditions in which those inmates are living,” he said. “I was shaken when I left that visit to the Thunder Bay jail.”

Dangerous overcrowding, excessive use of solitary confinement, and lack of life-saving mental health supports are just a few of the major issues that inmates and staff face every day.

I support the calls for the closure of the Thunder Bay District Jail and I call on you to provide the funding and resources needed to ensure the safety of inmates and staff.

You have announced a new jail for sometime in the future, but we are experiencing tragedies in the here and now.

There is no more time to waste.

Your announcements for future projects will not solve overcrowding today, they will not provide life-sustaining health supports now, and they will not end the suffering of young Indigenous people in solitary confinement at this time.

You must take action now on the following recommendations made by the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, an Independent Police Oversight Review, Corrections staff, and NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler:

  • Create an intermittent facility to house inmates to help with overcrowding.
  • Invest in alternative measures for corrections that embody Indigenous values, beliefs and traditions such as healing lodges, and culturally relevant supports for Indigenous inmates.
  • Stop overcrowding by making custody in corrections a last resort
  • Dedicate yearly funding to fix and modernize jail infrastructure
  • Increase front-line staffing and training on areas like mental health, human rights, de-escalation techniques, and Indigenous cultural knowledge.
  • Begin a recruitment process for hiring Indigenous staff
  • Increase health care services, staff and mental health and addiction supports, including psychiatric treatment, therapeutic support and targeted programming for communities and inmates.

Kiiwetinoong is the only riding in Ontario with a majority First Nations population. When we confront the challenges facing our communities and the legacy of colonial structures, we are subjected to games of jurisdictional ping-pong between the federal and provincial levels of government. Our people pay in full with their health and even their lives.

The bureaucratic silence and inaction from all levels of government result in poorer inter-generational life outcomes for the people of Kiiwetinoong overall, higher levels of incarceration and, in the worst circumstances, death.

My 27 year old nephew, Kevin, died in the Thunder Bay jail.

A jail cannot be a place where Indigenous young people are sent to be forgotten and to die. The future of our communities are in jail. Our youth must be provided support so they can begin their healing process after generations of trauma.

That requires you to make a commitment to sustainable changes to the corrections system, specifically to the Kenora and Thunder Bay jails.

Though the ministry has said that the provincial government is looking at interim measures to support correctional centers, officers and inmates, no real measures have been announced.

As the Solicitor General, you have a moral obligation to protect those in the corrections system. I look forward to your response for a better Ontario.

[Original signed]

Sol Mamakwa
MPP for Kiiwetinoong

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Council Treaty #3
Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Chiefs of Ontario
National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations
Senator Murray Sinclair
Ontario Human Rights Commission
Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry, Canadian Human Rights Commission
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples