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Arts in Review

Listen to the “Thunder Bay” podcast

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Last week, Canadaland released chapters one and two of “Thunder Bay,” a new podcast about the Ontario city famous for hate crimes and homicide. Chapter three came out Oct. 28.

Hosted by Canadaland’s Ryan McMahon (from “Commons”) the show attempts to explain why Thunder Bay stands out for its amount of hate crimes, notably against Indigenous.

The national context for this podcast is that Indigenous children are the least important children in Canada. That’s what chapter three is about. Sounds kind of offensive? It is. And what McMahon so effectively captures in his exposition are the particulars of a systemic problem. Thunder Bay isn’t a microcosm. Local conditions make it notable, but what’s going on in Thunder Bay comes out of the same institutional failures affecting Williams Lake, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford.

This is an important podcast for Canada. Beyond the powerful and timely journalistic presence it brings as a longform, story-driven series, taking much of its form from “Serial” and “Shit Town,” it is an aesthetically relevant podcast. This episodic investigative series with an impassioned focus on the suspicious deaths of Indigenous and the city’s Seven Youth Inquest, as well as the mayor’s preoccupation with extortion allegations, is worth celebrating particularly because the show was crowdfunded.

Being a multi-part podcast, “Thunder Bay” relies on good production and narrative structure to hold audience attention. It is broken up into chapters, with the story accompanied by a melancholic violin score, and important dramatic cues. The power in this kind of storytelling is that the listener experiences Murder Bay as McMahon describes it, ultimately to answer the question “Why?” and not, “Who dun it?”

In chapter one, McMahon gives a condensed history of hate crimes directed at Indigenous people, and the unsolved, under-investigated, deaths of Indigenous youth. Chapter two changes course to look entirely at Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs, who is still mayor, re-elected despite being implicated in obstruction of justice and extortion charges.

Thunder Bay” is important because it is Canadian journalism on an entirely Canadian issue. And yet, this is a multinational story. Ignore the unabashed sensationalism in the mainstream media for a moment and plug into important, timely Canadian issues presented with entertaining narrative.

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