THUNDER BAY - In 2018, Thunder Bay Police Service investigated eight homicides. Of those eight cases, three remain open and while unresolved cases are frustrating for officers from a service that prides itself on a high clearance rate in homicide investigations, with 23 of 25 homicides between 2009 and 2016 solved, the increasing use of firearms in violent crimes remains a growing concern.
Since August 2018, there have been six homicide investigations inside the city of Thunder Bay and one just outside of city limits on Highway 527.
Three of those investigations in the city remain open. On Aug. 22, the body of 31-year-old Amelia Corrie Sainnawap was found in a laneway in the 100 block of Cumming Street. A little more than a week later on Aug. 31, 59-year-old David Hugh Sweeney was found dead in a North Algoma Street residence where an assault had been reported. On Nov. 11, 35-year-old Geoffrey Christopher Corbeil was fatally shot inside a residence on the 300 block of South Brodie Street.
A fourth outstanding homicide investigation involves the body of a 21-year-old Toronto man that was found on Highway 527 on Jan. 13, 2019 and is being investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police. A firearm was used in that incident.
According to Thunder Bay Police Service Det.-Insp. Ryan Hughes, investigators are waiting for forensic evidence in relation to the Sainnawap and Corbeil cases.
“That has gone away for analyses then the officers can move forward once they get that information back and potentially move toward future arrests,” Hughes said.
Hughes added that there are persons of interest in those two cases. In the Sweeney investigation, there are no persons of interest and no further details were available on the investigation other than that it is still open and ongoing.
The longer a case remains open and unresolved the more difficult it can be for officers to identify suspects or obtain information, Hughes said, because “people forget.”
“We are dealing with some vulnerable people, people dealing with substance abuses, so they forget stuff, or if it’s serious, they don’t want to talk about it, they are afraid to talk about it, so as time goes on it becomes more difficult for officers to investigate,” Hughes continued. “The officers do find that as an obstacle. People are afraid to speak because of the gun violence.”
Increasing gun violence
In 2018, there have been five shootings in the city of Thunder Bay, including the fatal shooting of Corbeil and the shooting death of 40-year-old Lee Chiodo on Feb. 14, which resulted in three arrests. Prior to Corbeil, the last shooting death in the city took place in 2012.
Other incidents include a gang-related shooting on Aug. 14 during which a Windsor Street home where a family with three children lived was struck by several bullets, an incident on Sept. 20 where a Piccadilly Avenue residence was shot at, and four days later, a shooting at a Mona Street residence that sent one man to hospital with serious injuries.
“These are all shootings that we’ve never seen before, so it is concerning,” Hughes said. “The rate of handguns we’ve seen up here has significantly increased in the last year over all the years I’ve been here before. That is a concern of police the amount of handguns are up here and that they are being used.”
In the last year-and-a-half, a task force made up of the Thunder Bay Police Service, the OPP, Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, and Anishinabek Police Services has seized approximately 18 handguns through the execution of search warrants.
Prior to a year-and-a-half ago, Thunder Bay Police seized only four handguns in four years, according to Hughes.
There is always a concern for public safety and whether or not this violence could spill over in to a public place, but Hughes said so far crimes involving firearms have involved a certain group.
“These are not random shootings,” Hughes said.
The guns are most likely being brought in from Southern Ontario as the firearms seized by police have been linked to Toronto gang members in Thunder Bay.
In order to address the growing issue of guns and gangs on the streets of Thunder Bay, Police Service chief Sylvie Hauth has reached out to the provincial government for financial assistance, but has not yet received any commitments.
“We are always at a high level for calls for service and major cases within Thunder Bay,” Hughes said, adding that in the last year, the police service had 32 major cases including the homicides.
“We do reach out for assistance in certain areas if we are resource depleted,” Hughes said. “I know the chief is requesting funding for additional officers and the violence that is up in Thunder Bay. With the task force, our partnering agencies do help us out to combat criminal activity in Thunder Bay.”
Hughes said the Task Force will continue to work together to get more guns and drugs off the streets, and investigators will continue to work toward resolving the three unsolved homicides in the city.
“Each investigation is open and officers are moving forward, even though it might be very slowly, they are moving forward on each investigation,” Hughes said.
Anyone with information about any of the outstanding cases can contact Thunder Bay Police at 684-1200 or Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.p3tips.com.
Correction: The original subheadline may have inadvertently linked all the unsolved deaths to gun violence, which is not the case. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.