An Ontario lawyer has been appointed to oversee the Thunder Bay Police Service board as part of an investigation by the province’s civilian police commission into the troubled service and its administration.
It’s the second time in the past four years the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) has appointed an administrator for the board. The order posted on the commission’s website calls the move necessary in the public interest, as it deals with allegations of reprisals and improper disclosure of confidential information among its members.
The latest order, dated April 19 and signed by commission chair Sean Weir, said Malcolm Mercer will have full power and authority to fulfill his mandate for an initial term of six months.
Mr. Weir said in the order that his decision was based on the commission’s preliminary review of the investigation’s work and its conclusion that regular media reports about dysfunction on the board have created significant doubt in the community that it can provide adequate oversight of the police force.
The commission can extend the order. It gives Mr. Mercer authority to preside over and have the sole vote in all regularly scheduled and special meetings, including in-camera sessions and sub-committee meetings, to ensure the board functions effectively.
Mr. Mercer will also review and report on the board’s implementation of recommendations from a 2018 commission investigation into the board, and prioritize those not yet completed. Retired senator Murray Sinclair led that investigation, concluding the board “failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.”
The appointment order states Mr. Mercer will work with the commission’s investigators to ensure the service is complying with the ongoing investigation, which is focused on members of the board and the police service. He will have unrestricted access to past and current board records, and can request documents from any member of the service or board as directed by the commission.
Mr. Mercer can also change the board’s processes and composition, which includes the power to suspend members.
The board said it has no comment, and the commission said it won’t provide further details of its investigation.
The commission opened its investigation into the service and board in February, after board member Georjann Morriseau asked for a temporary administrator. Ms. Morriseau has filed a human rights complaint against the board and Police Chief Sylvie Hauth and her lawyer, Holly Walbourne. Several members of the police service, including officers, have also filed human rights complaints alleging harassment from Chief Hauth and Ms. Walbourne. The board suspended Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes in January over what it called an internal human resources matter.
The commission said it also received a letter outlining concerns about Ms. Morriseau from the other members of the board, and a request from provincial Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones for an investigation.
The board said in a statement earlier this month that it continues to have confidence in the Thunder Bay Police Service. Indigenous leaders had called for the force to be dismantled after the Chief Coroner’s office released reports in March that outlined problematic and incomplete investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people.
The board recently established an expert panel of policing and governance leaders to help it implement Mr. Sinclair’s recommendations and navigate the human rights complaints.
Alok Mukherjee, a former chair of the Toronto Police Service board, is chairing the expert panel. He said he was surprised the commission appointed an administrator, although he said there has been significant concern in the community over the lack of progress on unresolved issues.
He also cited local questions about the status of the implementation of Mr. Sinclair’s report, a call from the police association, which represents the local officers, for an investigation, and the human rights tribunal complaints.
He said the administrator is specifically focused on the effectiveness of the board’s governance, unlike the previous administrator, who was in charge of the entire board governance.
“There is no question that the OCPC is right to focus on effectiveness of board governance, because there are deficiencies generally, around not only the province, but the country, with respect to the quality of civilian oversight and governance of policing,” he said. “So, I’d be very interested to see what comes from this administrator’s intervention in Thunder Bay.”
Mr. Mukherjee said his panel was in the early stages of its work, including gathering documents from previous investigations, reports and the human rights complaints, and scheduling presentations and meetings with the board, service and police association. He said he expects confirmation soon about whether the work will continue under the new administrator.
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