The civilian board in charge of Thunder Bay’s beleaguered police force has been dissolved and replaced with an administrator in light of a blistering report accusing the board of ignoring violence and systemic racism directed at Indigenous people.
In his report for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC), a quasi-judicial body supervising police boards, Senator Murray Sinclair said the Thunder Bay Police Services Board has, for years, “failed to provide the leadership and direction essential to ensure the success of the service they oversee.”
In response, the OCPC declared the situation in Thunder Bay an emergency and appointed lawyer Thomas Lockwood as administrator for a year, a choice that raised immediate objections from some Indigenous leaders.
Mr. Sinclair’s report, released on Friday, recommends board members take cultural sensitivity training, develop a training package for new members, establish closer ties with the Indigenous community and clarify the chief’s responsibilities to the board. He also wants to the body to create a plan for diversifying the police service.
“The board has failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay,” his report states. “Moreover, the board’s failure to act on these issues in the face of overwhelming documentary and media exposure is indicative of willful blindness.”
The report is the second to land this week critical of policing in the Northwestern Ontario city. A document released by the province’s Independent Police Review Director on Wednesday alleged systemic racism within the force and negligent investigations into sudden deaths of Indigenous victims. Taken together, the reports offer a blueprint for restoring confidence in a police force that has lost trust among the city’s roughly 15,000 Indigenous residents.
Mr. Lockwood is a Toronto-based lawyer, and Indigenous leaders said he has little experience working with their communities.
Mr. Sinclair, who released his own statement about his report on Friday, said it is “absolutely essential, both as a matter of principle and as evidence of good faith, that the selection and appointment of the proposed administrator be made in consultation with the Indigenous community whose concerns gave rise to this investigation.”
While the leaders of the Indigenous communities north of Thunder Bay, whose people either live in or frequently visit the city, say they were consulted about the criteria that should have been used in selecting an administrator, their input was ignored and they were blindsided by the selection of Mr. Lockwood.
Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), which represents 49 Northern Ontario First Nations, said in a release that he endorsed Mr. Sinclair’s recommendations.
“It is unacceptable, however that an administrator was so hastily selected without any consultation from the Indigenous community and the Thunder Bay community in general,” he said. “Policing in Thunder Bay presents unique challenges and realities, and it is critical that the administrator is well versed in these issues and has an established rapport with Indigenous people.”
Julian Falconer, a lawyer for NAN, said the failures of the Thunder Bay police board as found by Mr. Sinclair relate to incompetent governance and culturally insensitive directors.
“The irony here is that the Thunder Bay Police Services Board is being disciplined for governing in a culturally incompetent fashion, issues central to Indigenous communities,” he said, “and the solution offered by OCPC is to place all of the authority of the board in the hands of someone not acceptable to Indigenous people and completely foreign to them.”
The current board secretary did not respond to a request for comment, and the OCPC said it would not provide interviews.
The OCPC asked Mr. Sinclair last year to look into concerns about the delivery of police services in the city.
Mr. Sinclair describes a board that seemed to view itself more as a cheerleader than an overseer of the 300-member police force, playing down stories that shed a negative light on the force’s treatment of Indigenous people.
“The absence of that leadership has led to an institutional climate in which systemic racism within the TBPS, its management, and the board itself, has become normalized,” Mr. Sinclair said in a statement.