Thunder Bay Police Service appoints new chief as it grapples with major challenges
Darcy Fleury, coming from the RCMP in Edmonton, will start as Thunder Bay chief designate on April 17
The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) has named an RCMP commander from Edmonton who will take over an embattled northwestern Ontario force that's been dealing with several controversies over the past year.
Darcy Fleury will start serving as chief designate on April 17, with a change-of-command ceremony scheduled for May 15, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board announced Tuesday morning in a news release.
The city's previous full-time chief, Sylvie Hauth, retired in January while under suspension. Her retirement came shortly before she was scheduled to face a Police Services Act hearing over allegations of professional misconduct.
Fleury will step in for Dan Taddeo, the acting chief since last summer.
Fleury is currently the RCMP district commander — chief superintendent for the Central Alberta District based in Edmonton. The Thunder Bay police board said he'll bring extensive experience in investigative, operational, and administrative policing to the role. His career has also included postings in the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Alberta.
The board said Fleury is Métis and his father was a founding member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.
I am aware of some internal situations there with the organization, that there were a number of complaints, and internal investigations are ongoing.- Darcy Fleury, Thunder Bay's incoming police chief
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Fleury said he's been following the TBPS and the challenge it's been facing for years. One of his priorities will be to rebuild trust.
"I am aware of some internal situations there with the organization, that there were a number of complaints, and internal investigations are ongoing," Fleury said. "I look forward to being fully briefed on how that's going.
"I do know that there has been some concern with the public as far as the reputation of the police service and how they operate. So I think one of the big pieces there is to rebuild that trust.
"We have to work really hard with the communities, and be part of the community and get out there."
Part of that plan will involve holding public town hall meetings, Fleury said.
Fleury also said building a healthy relationship with the city's Indigenous community will be a focus, and he plans to meet with Indigenous community members and organizations regularly.
"Some of the First Nations communities around Thunder Bay would, I think, welcome the opportunity to sit down and have conversations as to where we are as a police agency, and how we can better serve the people that actually end up living in in Thunder Bay."
Service faces serious difficulties
Hauth's term was marked with difficulties, including the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of human rights complaints, serious morale issues among officers, as well as several damning reports that found evidence of systemic racism within the force and detailed serious deficiencies in investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay over the last 20 years.
There are also outstanding calls by Indigenous leaders to disband the entire service and recommendations to reinvestigate the deaths of 14 Indigenous people alongside a broader review of the police service's case file management system.
Anna Betty Achneepineskum, deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), welcomed Fleury's hiring and said NAN was consulted during the hiring process.
"When I learned of the selection of Darcy Fleury, with his years of experience, serving with the RCMP, we have that hope that he will serve the city of Thunder Bay and citizens in a good way," she said.
Achneepineskum and other Indigenous leaders previously called for the force to be disbanded and for the service be stripped of its ability to investigate major crimes.
She said she still stands by that call, until the TBPS and its oversight board have made significant reforms and implemented past recommendations made by various civilian oversight agencies.
Achneepineskum has led calls to hold Thunder Bay police accountable in the past, and said she will continue to do that going forward.
"We're still going to be monitoring," she said. "There's still a lot of gaps, a dark cloud hanging over our head right now. It's going to fall on the lap of the new chief of police."
The police services board itself remains under the oversight of administrator Malcolm Mercer, who holds the sole vote on the board. His term was recently extended until March 2024.
In a statement, Mercer said he's confident Fleury would "meet the key challenges of building and rebuilding relationships in the Thunder Bay community and region."
As for law enforcement in Thunder Bay, Fleury said guns, gangs and the illicit drug trade are his major concerns.
"When I'm there, I would like to see what they have planned right now. I do have a bit of a background on managing some projects, so seeing what they're doing, how they're doing it, and see if we can push it along."
Fleury said internal strife at the police service is also a concern, but he believes his management style, which he described as "very open," will help.
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"I always focus on trying to create a learning environment where everybody takes responsibility for their roles, and we develop them into those roles so they understand completely how to actually be effective leaders," Fleury said. "It is a concern that I still hold and something that I have to look very closely at once I'm in the position."
Police board member Denise Baxter, who was involved in the hiring process, said the board will be working with Fleury when he arrives in the city.
"I think most people are keeping a close eye what's been unfolding in Thunder Bay over the past five to 10 years," Baxter said. "He really does understand the mandate that has been presented to the person that holds this important role."
"Part of the work that we'll be doing with him as the board is to go through the all the data that we have, all the the reports that we have, and make some decisions about where are those first places where we need to start."
Baxter also supported Fleury's plan to hold town halls in Thunder Bay.
"I think as a leader you need to be present in the community," she said. "Having those opportunities for him to engage in a real meaningful way, and listening to the people that reside in our city, will be really important."