Lack of RCMP emergency response to northern Manitoba First Nation crime a 'slap in the face,' chief says

This area near East Back Lake in Bunibonibee Cree Nation, where four people were shot on Sunday. (Submitted by Richard Hart - image credit)
This area near East Back Lake in Bunibonibee Cree Nation, where four people were shot on Sunday. (Submitted by Richard Hart - image credit)

The chief of a remote Manitoba First Nation believes a recent shooting could have been prevented if RCMP were more responsive to a recent uptick in crime in the community, including arresting a man allegedly involved in the shooting who was previously wanted by Mounties.

On Sunday, two men and two teenage boys were airlifted to hospital after being shot in Bunibonibee Cree Nation, about 540 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, RCMP said in a news release.

Afterward, community members were put in lockdown while leadership wasn't sure who was involved in the shooting or if other people's safety was at risk. Chief Richard Hart said the next day he was hopeful an emergency response team would come and take away any suspects, but that never happened.

"When you're expecting them and they don't come, it's almost a slap in the face. It appears that they don't care that there's this person with a gun that's willing to use it on people," he said in an interview Thursday.

The Oxford House RCMP detachment is located in the fly-in community, and has eight Mounties stationed there, though not all are there at all times, RCMP say. Hart said an emergency response team would bring more resources to arrest dangerous, potentially armed people.

Sheila North/CBC
Sheila North/CBC

On the day of the shooting, Hart says unarmed band constables were the first to respond to the shooting and brought the victims, all males ages 28, 26, 17 and 16, to the nursing station before RCMP arrived. They were later airlifted to hospital in Winnipeg.

Increase in violence

Violence in the First Nation spiked about two months ago, coinciding with the return of a community member who was there to attend a funeral and stayed, Hart said.

Over the summer, gang activity increased, and there were a number of home invasions, including one that ended in a young child losing an eye, he added.

"We've been discussing this issue as a council and we've had multiple meetings with the RCMP over the last few weeks.... our main goal was to get some action done on this matter," Hart said.

The community attempted to internally deal with a man believed to be linked to the violence by voting in early July to ban him from the First Nation for a year, but couldn't catch him to force him onto the first plane south.

At one point, an unarmed band constable spotted him and chased him into the woods, but wasn't able to catch the man.

"They were on their own, right? And they were taking risks to their lives, trying to catch this guy," he said.

Oxford House RCMP
Oxford House RCMP

ERT expected to arrest man before shooting

Five days prior to the shooting in Bunibonibee, RCMP publicly stated that the same man was wanted for aggravated assault and was being sought by police.

Tara Seel, a media relations officer with the Manitoba RCMP, says an emergency response team was scheduled to fly in to execute the warrant and arrest the man prior to the shooting, but the local detachment stated it would execute the warrant before the ERT could.

It's not clear what happened that allowed the man to evade arrest and allegedly take part in the shooting.

"So ERT didn't attend to execute that warrant. That male who is a high-risk offender who has a criminal history is now in custody. However, the shooting incident, there was some involvement by him in that," she said.

Hart says the man turned himself in to police on Tuesday, two days after the shooting.

Another person, a 22-year-old man, was arrested in relation to the shooting and charged with more than 15 offences, police said in a news release Thursday.

"I think the general feeling is that [RCMP are] not doing enough to protect the safety of citizens. - Chief Richard Hart

The chief wonders if the shooting would have happened if police had made arrests for previous crimes sooner.

"This summer of gang activity to this point has been just a series of gang attacks and retaliation ... Had they made a real conscious effort to go after him [the man RCMP had a warrant for], I'm pretty sure the shooting wouldn't have happened," he said.

Hart says people in the community have had a difficult summer, but the weekend shooting took a toll and left members feeling unprotected.

No ERT after shooting

The feeling was exacerbated after the shooting, when Hart said RCMP were filing paperwork to again bring in the ERT, but days later one suspect turned himself in and RCMP didn't send a team to find another person allegedly involved in the shooting — who was later arrested.

"I think the general feeling is that [RCMP are] not doing enough to protect the safety of citizens. There seems to be a feeling that they simply are not really following up on a lot of the activities that have taken place up to this up to this point," Hart said.

Seel says the local RCMP officers felt they had the necessary resources to investigate and focus on public safety, and there's certain criteria that needs to be met to deploy the team.

"We totally understand that the community members are on edge. We can certainly appreciate that this incident has caused a lot of concern and even fear among members of the community," she said.

"We're very much focused on making sure everyone feels safe."