Ontario’s Civilian Police Commission has opened an investigation into the Thunder Bay Police Service on allegations of serious misconduct and a range of other concerns, from disciplinary actions and conduct of officers in criminal investigations to how the police chief and deputy chief lead daily operations.
The announcement by the commission Friday comes a day after the Ontario Provincial Police said it was also considering an investigation and highlighted a number of allegations against Chief Sylvie Hauth and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, as well as the chief’s lawyer, Holly Walbourne.
In the terms of reference, the commission said it decided to investigate after completing a preliminary review, which was conducted after requests from the Thunder Bay police board and Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones.
“I am satisfied that the circumstances require a thorough investigation,” said Sean Weir, executive chair of Tribunals Ontario for the commission.
The commission said it will investigate allegations against Deputy Chief Hughes that he initiated a criminal investigation of breach of trust against board member Georjann Morriseau “without sufficient grounds and without the chief’s knowledge.” He also allegedly procured a production order on Ms. Morriseau’s cellphone on “misleading grounds, which was obtained without the chief’s knowledge,” the commission said.
Deputy Chief Hughes was suspended by the police board on Jan. 28 pending an internal investigation. A preliminary report to the board in December from lawyer Lauren Bernardi of Human Resource Law in Toronto found no evidence of harassment by Chief Hauth and Deputy Chief Hughes against an officer, but said if the allegations against Deputy Chief Hughes “can be proven to be true, they would constitute workplace harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
Chief Hauth will be investigated for allegations that include failing to appropriately address Deputy Chief Hughes’s actions, providing misinformation to the police board about the investigation into Ms. Morriseau, and collusion with Deputy Chief Hughes and Ms. Walbourne in their responses to the commission relating to the board’s request for investigation.
“The above allegations, if proven, may amount to serious misconduct under the Code of Conduct … to the [Police Services Act],” the terms of reference states. “They raise serious concerns about the management of discipline in the police service, the conduct of criminal investigations by its officers, and the ability of senior leadership to administer the day-to-day operations of the police service in good faith and in compliance with the [Police Services Act].”
The commission said the police board requested last April that it investigate the force’s top brass.
A letter to the commission dated April 29, 2021, from board chair Kristen Oliver doesn’t indicate who the board wanted investigated, but that its request came after receiving verbal and written allegations from board member Ms. Morriseau about “her interactions with members of the Thunder Bay Police Service, and later the Ontario Provincial Police, with regards to an internal investigation.”
The terms of reference also state that Ms. Jones made a request to the commission on Jan. 22, “as it relates to the investigation of Board Member Georjann Morriseau, the management of discipline with the TBPS and its administration.”
In a letter dated Jan. 22 from Ms. Jones to Ms. Morriseau’s lawyer, Chantelle Bryson, the Solicitor-General said she was making the request to the commission based on Ms. Bryson’s e-mail on Dec. 1, “regarding matters that have been referred to the OCPC and are the subject of applications to the Human Rights Tribunal.” The letter also states the request was being made to “investigate the conduct and performance of the Chief, Deputy Chief, as well as the administration of the police service.”
Ms. Bryson has filed nine human rights complaints on behalf of members of the service, including Ms. Morriseau, on allegations of racism, discrimination and harassment against Chief Hauth, Deputy Chief Hughes, Ms. Walbourne, other senior members of the service and the board.
She said the commission denied her clients’ investigations into their complaints and they had no knowledge the board had requested the investigation.
The commission has previously told The Globe it won’t comment on investigations or potential investigations.
The OPP is also expected to announce whether it will investigate members of Thunder Bay police on allegations of misconduct following a request from the province’s Attorney-General. OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said the request from the Attorney-General to the OPP is not connected to the Solicitor-General’s request to the commission.
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