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A northern Ontario police chief who oversaw the Thunder Bay force during tensions with Indigenous residents and faced an obstruction of justice trial last year has retired.

Thunder Bay’s Police Services Board announced Thursday that J.P. Levesque was retiring after 31 years of service.

The board says Levesque worked in many facets of policing, including criminal and drug investigations, and served in senior leadership roles before taking on the role of chief.

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It says Deputy Chief Sylvie Hauth will become acting chief of police, and Insp. Don Lewis will be the acting deputy chief while the board searches for Levesque’s replacement.

Levesque was found not guilty in January of obstruction of justice and breach of trust. Ontario Provincial Police first laid the charges in May 2017 and he was soon placed on administrative suspension by the board.

A judge ruled the Crown did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Levesque intended to interfere with a possible extortion investigation into Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs and acted within his discretion as chief of police.

Hobbs, along with his wife, Marisa Hobbs, were charged with extortion and obstruction of justice last July.

Levesque’s lawyers argued his decision was the best one based on the unique circumstances of the situation and that he acted within his discretion as chief of police.

The prosecutor had argued Levesque attempted to interfere with the investigation by tipping off Hobbs.

Levesque also oversaw the Thunder Bay police during a time of tensions between the force and Indigenous people.

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Last June, a Statistics Canada report found most of the police-reported hate incidents in Thunder Bay were against Indigenous people, accounting for 29 per cent of all anti-Aboriginal hate crimes across Canada in 2015.

And several northwestern Ontario chiefs have criticized police handling of the deaths of local youths in the city.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler has said the safety of Aboriginal people is a serious issue in Thunder Bay, where the mysterious deaths of Indigenous teenagers Tammy Keeash and Josiah Begg have made headlines across Canada.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission announced last July that Sen. Murray Sinclair — the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools — would oversee a probe into the city’s police services board.

Board chair Jackie Dojack praised Levesque’s work after accepting his retirement, saying “Levesque has had an accomplished career which has been marked with distinction, leadership, and tremendous integrity in service to the community.”

“We wish J.P. all the best as he enters a new chapter of his life,” Dojack said.

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