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Thunder Bay, Ont., police forming group to address systemic-racism allegations

A Thunder Bay police car is seen on Dec. 9, 2011.

Sandi Krasowski/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A northern Ontario police service that has faced allegations of systemic racism says it is forming a working group to help it reshape its diversity training, recruitment, communications and community policing.

The Thunder Bay Police Service says the working group will include members of the service and volunteers from the community.

Officials say the initiative's purpose is righting relations inside and outside the police service, particularly with the Indigenous community.

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It will also involve restructuring the force's Aboriginal Liaison Unit, attempting to recruit Indigenous and other under-represented groups to the police service and creating ongoing diversity training for staff.

An application to participate in the working group is available online and volunteers must commit to a meeting between March 1 and March 1, 2019.

A resolution in support of the project was passed unanimously by the city's police services board last month.

"We want this to be achievable and we want it to be sustainable," acting Chief Sylvie Hauth said Thursday in a statement.

Last August, the city and First Nations leaders in the region signed a pledge to fight racism in Thunder Bay, which has been plagued by tensions between Indigenous residents and local police.

The statement acknowledged systemic racism exists in Thunder Bay and said it must be challenged by all members of the community.

The statement signed by the city, Fort William First Nation and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation also stated the need to improve safety for Indigenous students attending school in Thunder Bay.

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Indigenous students from outside Thunder Bay must relocate to the city to complete high school or post-secondary education, the statement said.

At least eight Indigenous students, in Thunder Bay for schooling, have been found dead in recent years – several by drowning.

Local chiefs have criticized the handing of many of the deaths by Thunder Bay police.

First Nations leaders have also pointed to several acts of violent racism against Indigenous peoples, including the case of an Indigenous woman who died after being struck by a trailer hitch in early 2017.

Melissa Kentner underwent emergency surgery after the incident Jan. 29, but never recovered.

Data from the 2016 census showed Thunder Bay has the highest proportion of Indigenous people in Canada at 12.7 per cent.

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