Thursday, July 24, 2014
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First Nations family fears police retaliation

Thunder Bay police officer acquitted of assault

By Jody Porter, CBC News

An Anishinaabe man says his family is living in fear after a Thunder Bay police officer was acquitted of assault against their 12-year-old son.

Constable Steven Oster was found not guilty of assault on May 7. He was charged after an altercation at a Thunder Bay-area arena.

The court heard that the off-duty officer made physical contact with the boy three times.

The judge said the officer's behaviour was inappropriate and that the family was right to pursue charges, but that the contact did not constitute assault.

The boy's father said the case shook his faith in the justice system and sent a frightening message.

"The message that I get is that there is no protection for you," he said. "I have a sense of fear. Somebody might walk into my house ... and it could be the city of Thunder Bay Police."

A publication ban on the boy's name prevents CBC News from identifying the father.

"My son feels like he has no voice," the father said, adding he feels like race was a big factor in the case.

"That's what it boils down to is racism, right down racism. Aboriginals against Western society again. History repeats itself. It's always Aboriginals fighting for their rights and never recognized.

"Why wasn't there any support for us there? Why wasn't there anything?"

The man said there were more than a dozen police officers in the court each day supporting the accused officer.

"It was really intimidating for myself and my wife," he said. "We were the little people trying to get justice."

Told to 'stay quiet'

Meanwhile, he said the family was told not to tell anyone about the case during the 15 months they waited for it to come to trial.

"We were told to stay quiet, not to say anything to anybody," he said. "We were told it might influence the case."

He did speak publicly about the altercation last year at a community forum in Thunder Bay aimed at easing tensions between Thunder Bay police and Aboriginal people in the city.

A special task force was struck after several concerns were raised at the forum, but CBC News was unable to locate any members of the task force or determine whether it is active.

"I don't see the Thunder Bay police having any intentions of trying to fix the relationship," the man said.

Thunder Bay police issued a written response to a CBC News request for comment on the special task force and the concerns raised by the family.

"We have been working with city's Aboriginal community to build positive relationships," spokesperson Chris Adams wrote in an email. "It is an ongoing process that we are committed to. This is the only statement we are going to make."

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