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Georjann Morriseau in her home in Thunder Bay.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

An administrator appointed to oversee the troubled Thunder Bay Police Service board has been granted expanded authority over the board’s decisions, after the resignations of most of its members last week.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) launched an investigation into the police service’s leadership in February, and on April 19 appointed Malcolm Mercer the board’s administrator for at least six months, giving him the sole vote on all of the five-person body’s decisions until he is satisfied it can perform its duties.

Board chair Kristen Oliver, a city councillor, and two provincial appointees, Michael Power and Royden Pelletier, resigned days after the order was made.

After the resignations, there was confusion over whether Mr. Mercer could still make decisions, because with so many board members gone it was no longer possible for the body to achieve quorum at meetings. But a new OCPC order, issued on Tuesday, resolves that uncertainty. It says Mr. Mercer can exercise his power even when the board does not have quorum, and can also make decisions on behalf of the board by issuing resolutions outside of formal meetings.

The OCPC began its investigation into the service’s administration after receiving a letter from a board member, Georjann Morriseau, who had recently filed a human-rights complaint against the board and Police Chief Sylvie Hauth for discrimination and harassment. Other members of the board responded with a letter that raised allegations of conflict of interest and improper disclosure of confidential information against Ms. Morriseau.

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The board also requested last year that the OCPC investigate allegations against Ms. Hauth, her lawyer Holly Walbourne, and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, whom the board suspended in January for what it called an internal human resources matter. The Ontario Provincial Police are actively investigating senior members of the service, but haven’t publicly identified the targets of the probe.

A 2018 report by retired senator Murray Sinclair for the OCPC concluded that the board had failed to recognize and address a “clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.”

The OCPC’s April 19 order references that report. “The TB Board is not able to work effectively as a board at a time when the earlier Sinclair recommendations are alleged to remain unfulfilled,” the order says.

The order also cites allegations of conflicts of interest, reprisals and improper disclosure of confidential information among board members.

“I am of the opinion that an emergency exists in the TB Board oversight of the TB Police Service,” adds the order, which is signed by OCPC chair Sean Weir.

Ms. Oliver said Monday she didn’t agree with the OCPC’s findings. She said the board was not consulted about its work related to the Sinclair report.

“I don’t see that the board is in an emergency,” she said. “We’re functioning fine, we’re working, we’re doing the work that needs to get done.”

Ms. Oliver said the OCPC’s findings are one-sided. The commission, she added, “at no time talked to any of the board members and they didn’t request any meeting minutes or agendas or even the updated chart that we have with regard to where we’re at with the recommendations.”

Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro and Ms. Morriseau are the remaining board members. Mr. Mauro did not respond to a request for an interview, but told city council on Monday he will be meeting with Mr. Mercer next week and plans to bring up a number of issues, including who will pay for the administrator’s costs. Ms. Morriseau is on leave.

Mr. Mercer will also meet virtually with leaders from Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a political organization representing 49 First Nations in the region, which last month called for the police service to be dismantled.

A 2018 report by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, released days before the Sinclair report, found that systemic racism exists within the service at an institutional level. The report recommended reinvestigations of nine deaths of Indigenous people because of problematic police work. Those reinvestigations were completed by independent investigators.

Leaked reports by the independent investigators revealed more than a dozen additional Indigenous deaths that require reinvestigations because of faulty police work.

NAN Deputy Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said she stands firm in her belief that the service should be disbanded. She said the board has had time to implement recommendations aimed at improving its relationships with Indigenous communities, but continues to fail.

“They say they have implemented a certain number of the recommendations but I haven’t seen any type of documentation or anything,” she said. “They haven’t reached out to us at all.”

This is the second time the OCPC has appointed an administrator to oversee the service and board. The previous instance was soon after the release of the Sinclair report, which recommended an administrator take over for a year while board members received cultural and governance training. Thomas Lockwood served as administrator between December, 2018, and June, 2020.

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