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Thunder Bay police Chief Sylvie Hauth took on the top job in 2017.David Jackson/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario Provincial Police says its criminal investigations branch has opened a case against members of the Thunder Bay Police, but wouldn’t specify who, or what the allegations are.

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said the force received a request to investigate from the province’s Ministry of the Attorney-General last December, but would not give further details or comments, including how long the case will take.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission said it is looking into misconduct allegations against Chief Sylvie Hauth and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, including that Deputy Chief Hughes initiated a criminal investigation against a police board member on insufficient grounds.

The commission said it received a request from Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones in January and from the Thunder Bay Police Services board last April to investigate senior members of the service. The OPP said the request it received from the Attorney-General is separate from that of the Solicitor-General to the commission.

Thunder Bay Police Services board chair Kristen Oliver said in an e-mail that the board does not know the scope of the OPP investigation. She added that the board is concerned the names of members of the service have been publicly attached to investigations by third parties “in a way that is damaging to them and contrary to the confidentiality that the Police Services Act requires.” Ms. Oliver said the board would not suspend Chief Hauth unless objective findings lead to such a decision.

Thunder Bay police ‘on brink of collapse,’ board member says

The board suspended Deputy Chief Hughes on Jan. 28 over what it described as an internal human resources matter.

The service and the board have been the subject of complaints from within its ranks since board member Georjann Morriseau filed a human rights complaint last year against Chief Hauth, her lawyer Holly Walbourne and the board. Ms. Morriseau alleged discrimination and harassment because of her Indigenous identity and rumours of a leak of police information. Eight other members of the service have also filed human rights complaints with allegations of corruption, criminality and abuse by senior members.

Chief Hauth took on the top job in 2017 – first in an acting role when former chief J.P. Levesque was suspended after he was charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice for his involvement in a criminal investigation against then-mayor Keith Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs was also charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice. Both were acquitted, and Chief Levesque retired in 2018, at the same time the service and board were under investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the commission.

Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate Thunder Bay Police brass

A 2018 report report by the OIPRD called Broken Trust said “systemic racism exists within the [Thunder Bay Police Service] at an institutional level.” A report from the commission by Senator Murray Sinclair concluded that the board “failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.”

Recommendations from those reports were aimed at rebuilding public trust and confidence, particularly with Indigenous people and communities. The reports also called for the reinvestigation of nine sudden-death cases involving Indigenous people that the Broken Trust report found problematic, riddled with biases, negligence and systemic failures.

Those nine reinvestigations were completed last year, but no findings have been made public yet. Some of the families of the people who died have expressed frustration over the lack of communication and transparency in the process, which was led by Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer and included Chief Hauth.

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