BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
An investigation by the Red Lake Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Crime Unit is the first order of business, but repairing damaged relationships will follow, says OPP Sgt. Peter Leon, after a riot against police broke out in Pikangikum First Nation the evening of June 27.
“Moving forward, I think it’s important to recognize that the OPP had an excellent working relationship with Pikangikum and work very closely with its community leaders,” Leon said in an interview with The Northern Sun News. “I think one of the things that needs to take place is they have to sit down with the local band council and the leaders in Pikangikum and analyze the factors that lead up to the confrontation taking place. Hopefully both the OPP and the community leaders can work together to stabilize the situation, move forward, and certainly identify ways to avoid a similar situation from occurring in the future.”
The protest started peacefully with about 20 people. According to Leon, a Pikangikum Police officer was in the process of conducting an arrest when another community member began to intervene. The officer ended up having to use a conducted energy weapon (commonly referred to as a stun gun) on the person who intervened.
Soon after, approximately 200 community members gathered outside the police detachment and began to riot. They threw rocks at the building and destroyed police vehicles. One vehicle was sent the next day from the Red Lake OPP detachment.
The rioters then gained access to the main floor of the detachment where they trashed equipment and spray-painted the walls.
“The officers at that point did go to the upper level of the building and were at that point in a position where they were awaiting backup to arrive from the Red Lake detachment,” confirmed Leon. “The situation began to deescalate thankfully with the intervention of leaders from within the Pikangikum community itself.”
Pikangikum First Nation Police is a stand-alone service, but is supported on a rotational basis by OPP officers from the Red Lake detachment and other areas of the province.
Leon was unable to confirm a dollar amount for the damage done to the police vehicles and the detachment, which is an approximately two-year old modular that has eating and living quarters on the second floor to accommodate visiting officers.
He was also unable to confirm if the OPP vehicle sent from the Red Lake detachment was a temporary solution or how the damaged Pikangikum Police vehicles would be paid for.
Pikangikum Chief Paddy Peters did not respond to an interview request.