The chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board said it is committed to rebuilding trust and transforming the force after a new report revealed further findings of substandard death investigations of Indigenous people.
The report, based on findings from investigators, revealed little to no major case management procedures were followed in the cases, and identified an additional 16 death investigations – of 15 Indigenous people and one non-Indigenous person – for review by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney-General.
A confidential secondary report by investigators also flagged concerns with the 25 unsolved cases of missing and murdered women and girls in the city.
In an online press conference, board chair Kristen Oliver called the failings outlined in the report concerning but added she was satisfied with her meeting with police Chief Sylvie Hauth to review the findings. She said substantial changes within the department, including the creation and expansion of a major crimes unit, “has significantly improved the Thunder Bay Police Services’ ability to conduct investigations thoroughly to ensure integrity throughout the entire process.”
“Our board stands united in our goal to end systemic racism within the Thunder Bay police service and provide leadership and build trust with the Indigenous communities,” she said.
The report was submitted to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) last week by an executive governance committee that included retired justice Stephen Goudge, Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer, Ontario chief forensic pathologist Michael Pollanen, executive director of Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services Irene Linklater, elder Helen Cromarty and Chief Hauth.
The report falls on the backs of previous reports by the OIPRD and Ontario Civilian Police Commission that examined the service and board in 2018.
The report by the OIPRD, called Broken Trust, revealed systemic racism within the service “at an institutional level” and delivered 44 recommendations.
Then-senator Murray Sinclair led the commission’s review of the board, concluding the board “failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.” It handed out 45 recommendations.
The police board has now undertaken its own review by an expert panel that will deliver more recommendations to help it deal with a number of issues, including nine human-rights complaints against Chief Hauth and the board from members of the service and board member Georjann Morriseau, alleging discrimination and harassment.
Ms. Oliver told the media that much of the recommendations from the Broken Trust and Sinclair reports are completed or being implemented in some way, and the new expert panel will provide an “external lens” based on experience and knowledge to help them define policies that need developing and were identified in previous reports.
The Ontario Civilian Police Commission announced in February that it is investigating Chief Hauth and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes for misconduct, after requests by the board, Ms. Morriseau and the Ontario solicitor-general. The terms of reference state that the commission will also look into the administration of the service and the chief and deputy chief’s relationship to the board. Deputy Chief Hughes was already under suspension by the board over an internal human-resources matter in January.
However, Ms. Oliver said the board confirmed through its lawyer that it isn’t subject to the commission’s latest investigation, although she acknowledged the terms of reference state that parties can be added to the investigation at any time.
The OPP is also actively investigating members of the service, although it hasn’t said who.
Last year, the Ministry of the Attorney-General requested the Ontario Provincial Police reinvestigate the death of 41-year-old Stacy DeBungee, who was found dead in a city river in 2015. His family and community filed a complaint to the OIPRD against the Thunder Bay police. Officers involved in that investigation face disciplinary charges under the Police Services Act.
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