Large avatar romeowesley

Romeo Wesley, 34
Cat Lake, Ontario
September 09, 2010

Agencies: Nishnawbe Aski Police Service Ontario

Last updated: 7 months ago

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Cat Lake First Nation, about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, normally has two Nishnawbe Aski Police officers stationed in the community.

Two officers responded to a call from the Health Canada nursing station in 2010 when a nurse became concerned about the behaviour of Romeo Wesley, 34.

Wesley had gone to the nursing station — the only health facility in the community — seeking help. A former chief of Cat Lake told CBC News that Wesley may have been suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

He died while being restrained by police on the floor of the nursing station, in the presence of a visiting doctor, with his hands cuffed behind his back.

The nursing station is "supposed to be a safe, healthy environment, that's what Romeo wanted," Oombash said. "He went there and that's what cost him his life."

After years of lobbying to host the inquest in the fly-in First Nation, the community hopes it brings better health services and higher quality policing, Oombash said.

The influx of lawyers, inquest jurors, witnesses and coroner's officials will bring about a 10 per cent increase to Cat Lake's usual population of 500 people for the three weeks of proceedings. Meanwhile, the population of police officers will be boosted by 600 per cent.

"I told them that is ridiculous," Oombash said. "One young person, a relative of Romeo's, said if they're going to go that far to bring in extra officers, it shows they've got something to hide."

But that's not it at all, according to chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, who said the additional officers are part of meeting the logistical requirements of holding an inquest in a fly-in community.

The additional planning is well worth it to hold the inquest in Cat Lake, where family and community members can easily attend the proceedings, he said.

"There's many factors that may be community-specific to the death," Huyer said. "It's also important that any recommendations that may arise [from the inquest] are known to the community and have a full understanding of how they might impact the community."

Wesley's death, and its violent nature, has had a profound impact on the community, Oombash said.

Wesley had a "bumpy start" in life, but grew to be a good hunter who knew the land well, he added.

"The community was always behind him," Oombash said. "He was loved."

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