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The Ontario Provincial Police say they will soon decide if misconduct allegations against members of the Thunder Bay Police Service warrant an investigation.

The Ontario Attorney-General’s Ministry had asked the provincial police to look at complaints filed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) against the police chief and other senior members of the service and its board.

Board member Georjann Morriseau and eight current and former officers and civilians say in those complaints that they have been subject to racism, discrimination and harassment by police Chief Sylvie Hauth, her lawyer Holly Walbourne, deputy chief Ryan Hughes and other senior members, as well as the board.

Chantelle Bryson, lawyer for the complainants, said she wrote to Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones in December alleging Chief Hauth, Ms. Walbourne and a sergeant are “engaged in serious misconduct and potential criminal conduct.” Ms. Jones told Ms. Bryson in a Jan. 22 letter that the ministry has asked the OCPC “to investigate the conduct of the Chief, Deputy Chief, as well as the administration of the police service.”

The commission has said it won’t comment on investigations or potential investigations.

Thunder Bay deputy police chief suspended pending investigation

Thunder Bay Police Service spokesperson Chris Adams said the force has not been contacted by the OPP or ministry regarding the matter.

Police board secretary John Hannam said the board was “not aware of any such request” from the Ministry of Attorney-General to the OPP.

On Jan. 28, the police board announced it had suspended Deputy Chief Hughes pending the outcome of an internal investigation it called a human resources matter.

The board said it won’t comment further on the suspension. Documents show that at a December closed session, the board received a summary of allegations against Chief Hauth and Deputy Chief Hughes from a lawyer representing a Thunder Bay police sergeant. The confidential memo from Lauren Bernardi to board lawyer Don Jarvis said no findings had been made, that “these are merely allegations” and the investigation was ongoing.

The same sergeant is named in at least two of the human rights complaints against Chief Hauth, including Ms. Morriseau’s, with allegations that he leaked police information to an individual believed to administer a local social media page that posts about court proceedings.

Ms. Morriseau said in her complaint that she inadvertently became involved when an officer she did not recognize approached her in Home Depot in 2020 about a rumour that the sergeant was leaking police information. She said she told Deputy Chief Hughes and the board, expecting an investigation into the sergeant and possible police leak. However, she said in the complaint she later discovered she had become the subject of a misconduct investigation by Thunder Bay Police and the OPP, at the direction of Chief Hauth and with the knowledge of the board.

Thunder Bay’s policing crisis is a reflection of Canada’s policing issues

The city’s police service and its board faced a similar crisis in 2017, when then-Chief J.P. Levesque was charged with obstructing justice and breach of trust. Keith Hobbs, who was mayor at the time, was charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice in a related case. Both were acquitted.

At the same time, First Nations leaders and communities said they had lost trust and confidence in the police service and its oversight. Many were still reeling from an 2016 inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students who had lived in Thunder Bay. The Indigenous leaders said First Nations people continued to die in questionable circumstances in the city, and police investigations were inadequate.

A 2018 report called Broken Trust released by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director concluded “systemic racism exists in the Thunder Bay Police Service at an institutional level.” It made 44 recommendations to improve police standards, conduct and relations with Indigenous people.

Also in 2018, an Ontario Civilian Police Commission report by Senator Murray Sinclair found that the board “failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.” The board was stripped of its authority and taken over by Toronto-based lawyer Thomas Lockwood for more than a year.

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