A Thunder Bay police board member and former chair has filed a human-rights complaint against the police chief and other senior members of the service, as well as its board chair and secretary, alleging she was a victim of discrimination and harassment in an attempt to cover up a leak of confidential police information to a social-media page.
In the application filed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last Friday by Thunder Bay lawyer Chantelle Bryson, current Thunder Bay Police Service board member Georjann Morriseau alleges she faced rampant systemic discrimination by Chief Sylvie Hauth, Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, police lawyer Holly Walbourne, board chair Kristen Oliver, board secretary John Hannam and the board itself, based on her race and ethnic origin as an Indigenous person.
Both the Thunder Bay Police Service and the board said they haven’t received a copy of the complaint yet, and had no comment.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, oversight agencies, issued reports in 2018 saying the force and its board both had systemic racism ingrained at all levels. The police board was overhauled in the wake of the findings. Ms. Morriseau, a former chief of Fort William First Nation, was first appointed by the city to the police board in 2019 and became its second Indigenous chair later that year. Ms. Hauth was named the service’s first female police chief in 2018, shortly before the OIRPD’s findings of systemic racism.
Ms. Morriseau said the harassment and discrimination she experienced began in August, 2020, when she became an apparent witness to an internal investigation she didn’t know about. She also states she was subject to a criminal investigation into breach of trust by the Ontario Provincial Police at the request of Chief Hauth for telling an officer his name was brought up during an informal investigation related to information Ms. Morriseau had received about a text message that was part of a criminal investigation.
She claims in August, 2020, that a man who identified himself as a Thunder Bay police officer, but did not give his name, approached her in the local HomeSense store, indicating he knew who she was and that he had complaints about the service’s leadership. Namely, there was a rumour that an officer using a newly reissued phone received a text from a man believed by many to run the Thunder Bay Courthouse Inside Edition Facebook page, “which regularly drives divisions on racial lines within the Thunder Bay community by posting racially charged court and police information,” according to the application.
The officer told Ms. Morriseau the text requested further “good intel,” allegedly from the officer who previously had been issued the phone.
Ms. Morriseau said she reported her HomeSense encounter to Deputy Chief Hughes who would, weeks later, confirm what the service and lawyer Ms. Walbourne told her, that the communication between the officer who previously had the cellphone and the man from the social-media page was part of a legitimate, continuing, undercover operation.
Ms. Morriseau claims what has ensued since is an attempt by senior members of the service and board to cover up the leak by investigating who told her about the rumour, rather than investigate the text itself, something she said Chief Hauth had previously told the board was under investigation. She also claims she was never told she was subject of any criminal investigation, and was being questioned as a witness.
However, last week at a police board meeting, Chief Hauth presented a confidential memo that confirmed she had requested the OPP to investigate Ms. Morriseau for possible criminal conduct. According to the memo, the OPP said there was no criminal findings, and that the board member may have been “acting outside her role.”
In the application, Ms. Morriseau also claims Mr. Hannam and Ms. Oliver have made derogatory remarks to her about her Indigenous identity on different occasions, including telling her “things are done differently at the board than ‘on the rez.’ ”
Ms. Morriseau said she informed the board of the harassment and discrimination she had been experiencing in March, 2021, and that they requested the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate possible misconduct by members of the service. The OCPC did not respond immediately with comment.
Ms. Morriseau states she has experienced “mental-health distress and continuous unjustified attacks on her professional reputation” by the respondents because she’s Indigenous. She said she was also removed as chair of the board in December, 2020, when a new chair and vice-chair were appointed before her term was up. The confidential memo from Chief Hauth states she told Mr. Hannam about concerns over Ms. Morriseau’s possible misconduct on Dec. 9, six days before a new chair was appointed.
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