By Warren Schlote, Manitoulin Expositor
M’CHIGEENG — The sun was just starting to set in a brilliant display of red and orange when gunshots shattered the peace on a M’Chigeeng residential street Saturday afternoon (Feb. 2).
“This is a tragic situation,” said M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe (Chief) Linda Debassige, quoted in an article in the Manitoulin Expositor. “The community is quite shaken up.”
“The number one priority is the safety of the community and its members. We are working closely with the UCCM Police as more details unfold,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige.
Five youth — aged 16 and 17 — and one young adult from the Greater Toronto Area have been arrested and charged in connection with the shooting. All have been charged with attempt to commit murder using a firearm, break and enter a dwelling house with intent to commit an indictable offence and possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000.
A 16-year-old male from North York has additionally been charged with theft of a motor vehicle and assault with a weapon.
A 17-year-old male from Brampton and a 17-year-old male from Shelburne have additionally been charged with theft of a motor vehicle, assault with a weapon and two counts of fail to comply with a recognizance.
A 19-year-old male from Toronto has additionally been charged with theft of a motor vehicle.
Four of the suspects stole a truck and made a dash towards the swing bridge.
“OPP officers arrested four of the suspects in a stolen vehicle on Highway 6 in Little Current,” states a release from the OPP issued Monday night. “OPP and UCCM Police arrested two additional suspects on M’Chigeeng First Nation. A 20-year-old male and 16-year-old male were transported to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.”
Sources tell The Expositor that the 20-year-old suffered gunshot wounds to his legs but was released from hospital only hours later. He is currently recovering at home.
Shortly after the shooting, M’Chigeeng was placed under a hold and secure order. Residents were asked to stay indoors until police forces had the situation under control.
“We assisted as well with the hold and secure on the community, which included Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) for public safety reasons. That’s our primary concern, keeping everybody safe,” Constable Ford said.
There were staff and students practicing for an upcoming musical at MSS during the incident. Teacher Yana Bauer said police called the school and advised them to join the community’s hold and secure.
“There was no story of anything going on at the school. We kept the students safe as advised by police,” said Ms. Bauer.
Word that students were in the school during the incident circulated widely on social media, which Ms. Bauer said could have had negative consequences.
“Reporting on the school may have put our students in jeopardy because there was an active incident going on in the community,” said Ms. Bauer.
The school posted on its social media channels that the hold and secure had been lifted at 8:45 p.m.
Police were stationed in front of a residence on Pine St. in M’Chigeeng into Saturday evening with a spotlight pointed at the front door. Officers were walking through the adjacent yards with flashlights and rifles at the ready, advising residents to remain indoors until further notice.
Shortly after the first calls of the shooting came in to police, the OPP began to mobilize and established a roadblock at the swing bridge in Little Current.
“In the winter there’s only one way on and one way off the Island. We were keeping our eye on information provided by UCCM Police on the highways and thankfully our officers were on the ball and were able to locate the suspect vehicle,” said Constable Ford.
Nicole Taylor was driving her girls from their Winterfest hockey game at the Little Current Howland Recreation Centre to another game in Azilda when she witnessed the police takedown at the swing bridge. She had heard about the shooting in M’Chigeeng but did not realize the police activity in Little Current was related.
She said she noticed a couple of police cruisers set up at the bridge and figured there may have been a R.I.D.E. checkpoint, but then looked at a cruiser to her left.
“I said, ‘he’s got a big gun, like a rifle,’ and I looked to the right and the other cop already had his rifle out pointed in the direction of the bridge. That’s when we could hear officers starting to yell at the people to get their hands up and walk back to them.”
Another officer on scene advised Ms. Taylor and the two cars ahead of her that they “might want to turn around.” When moving their car, they got a clearer look at the scene.
“We saw about four people with their hands up walking backwards toward the officers, and then we just sat at the tourist information booth,” said Ms. Taylor.
“They had all four people on their knees with their hands up; we watched them cuff a couple people one at a time … and put them to the ground.”
Witnessing the operation gave Ms. Taylor mixed emotions.
“It was nerve-wracking and scary knowing what had happened but also I was glad to see it, because those people didn’t get off obviously. And I’m impressed that they were caught that quickly,” she said.
It was a multi-pronged effort to ensure the suspects could be caught in such short time and before they left Manitoulin Island. A tactical unit from the Greater Sudbury Police Service, Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation Police and all three police services on Manitoulin Island—UCCM, Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service and the OPP—joined forces to arrest the suspects.
“(The OPP’s) amazing working relationship with UCCM and Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service really makes a difference. I think it was great police work,” said Constable Ford.
Ogimaa-kwe Debassige agreed that the police forces all worked well on this case.
“The First Nation acknowledges the quick response of all police agencies in this matter to successfully apprehend the suspects,” she said. “I would also like to acknowledge the crisis response team who attended our community on Sunday.”
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, residents were invited to the M’Chigeeng Complex to discuss the incident and receive support from the M’nidoo M’nising Crisis Response Team. Ogimaa-kwe Debassige said there will be further support services available in the near future.
“We will be having a community meeting on Thursday to address concerns of the community and the UCCM Police will be in attendance,” she said, adding that she is also meeting with Indigenous and Northern Affairs to discuss a community safety mobilization plan.
All of the accused individuals were scheduled to appear before the Ontario Court of Justice in Wiikwemkoong on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
Any person with information regarding the persons responsible for this incident should immediately contact the UCCM Anishnaabe Police at 1-888-377-7135, the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or their nearest police authority.
Should you wish to remain anonymous, you may call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or submit information online at SudburyCrimestoppers.com, where you may be eligible to receive a cash reward of up to $2,000.