The Thunder Bay Police Service is on “the brink of collapse,” says a police board member who is one of nine people – mostly officers – who have filed human-rights complaints against the force.
Georjann Morriseau, who last October filed a human-rights complaint against Chief Sylvie Hauth and other senior members of the service and board for harassment and discrimination, said in a news conference on Thursday there is public interest in what is happening with the force, particularly before it submits its annual budget to the city.
She alleges public funds and resources have been mismanaged, morale among officers is low, and that police force members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses face discrimination and harassment.
She said the police service has failed to properly implement recommendations from two 2018 reports on systemic racism.
“The [police board] and senior management operate and make decisions in an impenetrable bubble of absolute authority with an expectation of immunity,” Ms. Morriseau said in a statement earlier in the week. “What is spoken about in public forums and displayed through photo ops, media releases and social media by [the board] and [senior management] does not accurately reflect what transpires behind closed doors. …
“This is a police service on the brink of collapse at the hands of its board, its leadership and its administration,” she said.
In a statement on Jan. 17, police board chair Kristen Oliver said the board is far from collapse and with the exception of Ms. Morriseau, is united and working well.
The next day, Chief Hauth agreed with Ms. Oliver’s view, saying in her own statement that the police service and the board are working together to provide “a high level of policing which the community has come to expect” and that the board “must speak with one voice to have effective governance.”
Ms. Morriseau and eight other members of the service have filed complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal since October, alleging discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race and mental health.
Thunder Bay lawyer Chantelle Bryson, who represents the complainants, said the number of cases is unusual and the service and its board is in crisis.
“It is extraordinary … to see any member of a police force publicly file against its leadership and board,” she said.
Ms. Morriseau filed a complaint last October alleging she was being harassed and discriminated against as an Indigenous woman by the police chief, the board chair and others. She said the harassment came after an encounter with an unknown officer that led to an Ontario Provincial Police investigation based on her conduct. The investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.
Ms. Morriseau filed a second human rights complaint in December. According to documents in that case, the board asked the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to investigate Ms. Morriseau for breach of conduct under the Police Services Act, alleging she disclosed confidential information to The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Morriseau’s second complaint says she believes the board is trying “to punish her for filing her [human rights] complaint by having her removed from the board due to OCPC investigation.”
Retired officer Kelly Walsh also filed a human rights complaint last October, alleging harassment and discrimination because of post-traumatic stress disorder, a workplace injury he’s suffered since 2014 that was officially diagnosed in 2021.
Mr. Walsh said in his complaint he was forced to retire early because his PTSD was triggered when he responded to a call in November, 2020, in which a sergeant interfered and made a false arrest and report. Mr. Walsh said that when he and another officer reported the incident to a staff-sergeant, they were told it would be dealt with “informally”. The two officers eventually went to the Crown attorney, and the charges against the person who was arrested were dropped. The second officer has also filed a complaint against the service and board.
In his complaint, Mr. Walsh said that this was when he began to experience harassment and discrimination. He alleged that it included interference in his disability claim by Chief Hauth and an inspector, who wrote letters to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board stating he was lying about his PTSD diagnosis. Mr. Walsh was also charged under the police act and the Health Protection and Promotion Act with violating public health orders last January when he had drinks in a friend’s garage.
Mr. Walsh said he retired last year after 33 years with the service that included a “spotless clean record,” and awards and recognition for his exemplary service and good conduct.
He has also filed a second complaint, alleging in the application “direct interference and intimidation of the complainants and officer witnesses.”
Ms. Bryson said the board hasn’t taken steps to address the overwhelming number of human rights complaints, other than to make requests to the province and police to have Ms. Morriseau investigated for misconduct.
Ms. Morriseau said she has no plans to step down from the board and will continue to speak out on matters she believes are in the public interest.
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