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The deputy chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service has been suspended pending an internal investigation, according to the city’s police services board.

The police board announced the suspension of Ryan Hughes in a news release on Friday afternoon, but did not provide details of the reason. The board said it wouldn’t comment further “as this is a human resources matter,” adding that it awaits the outcome of the investigation.

The suspension comes just one week after Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones asked the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to conduct an investigation into Thunder Bay Police Chief Sylvie Hauth, Deputy Chief Hughes and police-force administration.

The Thunder Bay Police Service and police board have faced scrutiny in recent years. Several investigations by the province have concluded that systemic racism existed at all levels of the force.

Deputy Chief Hughes is named in a human-rights complaint that board member Georjann Morriseau filed last October. It alleges harassment and discrimination from senior leadership, including Chief Hauth, her lawyer Holly Walbourne, police board chair Kristen Oliver and secretary John Hannam.

A Jan. 22 letter from Ms. Jones to Thunder Bay lawyer Chantelle Bryson, who represents Ms. Morriseau and eight others who have filed human-rights complaints against the leadership of the force and the board, confirms a request for the OCPC to “investigate the conduct and performance of the Chief, Deputy Chief, as well as the administration of the police service.”

Ms. Bryson said she doesn’t believe the deputy chief’s suspension is related to the OCPC investigation. The board and Chief Hauth said in statements earlier this week that they support the OCPC investigation and will co-operate with investigators.

Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for the Solicitor-General, said the OCPC investigation refers “to both the governance by the board and the leadership itself” and that the commission will determine what aspects to investigate.

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

The previous investigations of the police service and board by the province resulted in two reports in 2018 that found problems throughout the system. The board was dismantled at the time, and recommendations included re-examining the investigations into nine sudden deaths of Indigenous people that Independent Police Review director Gerry McNeilly said were inadequate and problematic.

Those reinvestigations, which were done by a team of officers from other police services, were completed recently, and the Special Investigations Unit announced on Friday that it will reopen the case of 20-year-old Arron Loon. Mr. Loon was found dead in a Thunder Bay park in March, 2015, the morning after police failed to respond appropriately to a call from a concerned friend that Mr. Loon was in the park, intoxicated and yelling, wearing only pants and a T-shirt in sub-zero temperatures.

The final report on the nine reinvestigations is expected to be released soon.

Deputy Chief Hughes was sworn in in August, 2019. He managed the crime and intelligence units as an inspector before that.

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