The Thunder Bay Police Service board has failed to get itself out of a state of emergency and will remain under the authority of a provincial-appointed administrator for another year, according to an extension order by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
Sean Weir, executive chair of Tribunals Ontario (a dispute resolution branch for the commission) and chair of the commission, said in the March 9 order that “an emergency continues to exist in the board’s oversight of the service” and that it is in the public interest for the administrator, Ontario lawyer Malcolm Mercer, to continue his role.
“There will be ongoing uncertainty until such time when a new fully constituted board is in place and appropriately trained and until the new police chief has had a transitionary period,” the nine-page order said.
The chair provided a lengthy list of work to justify the second extension order in less than a year, based on evidence provided by Mr. Mercer, and other recent events, including the appointment of new board members and the work of specialized committee members for tasks such as labour relations and governance, which includes the search for the new police chief.
Mr. Mercer was appointed to oversee the board last April and to restore proper governance, ensure proper oversight of the service, and to rebuild public confidence. His interim report last fall revealed failures in board governance to implement recommendations from two key reports from 2018.
Those reports – the Broken Trust report by Gerry McNeilly, former director of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, and another one by retired senator Murray Sinclair for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission – revealed systemic racism ingrained within the service and board. An administrator was then appointed to steer the board out of troubled waters before the reins were handed back to a newly trained board that was supposed to make good on dozens of recommendations presented as a clear road map in 2020.
“It is reasonable to conclude that since many of the recommendations made by Senator Sinclair remain unfilled, the trust of the Indigenous communities in the board to properly oversee the service and the service’s ability to protect them has not been established to the extent that it should have been,” the order by Mr. Weir reads.
Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Deputy Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, who called for the service to be shut down last year, said she told Mr. Mercer last month that he needed to stay on to ensure a smooth transition, in the second attempt to reconstitute a new board and hire a new police chief to lead them out of crisis.
“We’ve already gone down this road once,” she said.
Mr. Mercer was appointed last spring after inner turmoil within the board and service came to head when they became subject to a slew of complaints, including harassment and discrimination by a board member and several officers.
Former police chief Sylvie Hauth and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes both came under fire for allegations of misconduct and were investigated. Ms. Hauth took early retirement in January, weeks before she was to face misconduct charges under the Police Service Act, and Deputy Chief Hughes returned to his duties last month.
The latest extension order says Mr. Mercer will continue his role with sole power over board decisions until the end of June, at which time his voting power will be reduced to one vote only in the absence of a full five-member board until March 31, 2024.
Ms. Achneepineskum said she’s expecting the announcement of the new police chief by the end of March.
Board secretary John Hannam said the search process continues and the board hopes to make an announcement soon.