Ontario police watchdog says review of Thunder Bay force to be complete by spring
Police review director Gerry McNeilly was in Thunder Bay Monday for 1st public forum as part of probe
The head of Ontario's civilian police oversight body says he still expects to have the findings of his probe into allegations of systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service completed by next spring, even though he'll likely be gathering more input from city residents.
Gerry McNeilly, Ontario's Independent Police Review Director, was in the northwestern Ontario city on Monday, where he and his staff hosted an almost-three-hour-long public meeting. The open forum on police-community relations was designed to help inform his systemic review of city police, specifically the way they treat the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous people.
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"The end of winter [as a completion date] will give me some time to ... have some more in-person meetings and individual meetings in Thunder Bay for the next couple months," he said. "Then we'll start seriously writing a report."
"I think it's absolutely necessary that we move on and I don't want to drag this out," he continued. "This is not one of those inquiries that's going to go on for five years because then I think we lose people and we disappoint people."
The timing is poignant. On Saturday, the body of a 21-year-old Indigenous man — later identified as Dylan Moonias — was found in the Neebing-McIntyre Floodway. Four months ago, two teenagers, 17-year-old Tammy Keeash and 14-year-old Josiah Begg, were found in different parts of the same waterway.
Several speakers at Monday's meeting called for additional forums to be held in the city. The medium-sized room at the Da Vinci Centre, which can hold upwards of 250 people, was packed; even after staff brought in extra chairs, a number of people had to remain standing.
McNeilly said he intends to act on some of the suggestions for further public consultation, like speaking to people in shelters and holding additional focus group meetings.
McNeilly's report, when it is completed, is expected to identify issues with relation to police practices and make recommendations for improvement. While McNeilly said he can't force police to adopt them, he said he does have "enforcement mechanisms," such as public audits of how the service is responding.
Monday's meeting featured people getting into groups and discussing a series of questions posed by the police review directorate's staff, such as describing one's experiences with Thunder Bay police, whether people see racism in policing as an issue in Thunder Bay and what recommendations the final report should include.
Several people who addressed the crowd during the open discussion — which the media was asked not to record — spoke about the need for police to have better communication, not only with families of victims but also when they encounter Indigenous people on the streets.
Others spoke in support of the work that officers do in the community. "They're out there and they're doing their job," Joylyn Dysievick told CBC News before the meeting started. "Sometimes they just get [portrayed] badly."
"Not just particularly the police service, I think it's just the city of Thunder Bay, has to acknowledge that there exists racism," he told CBC News. "Whether ... [it is] behind doors or whatever, it does exist."
McNeilly said he felt Monday's discussion was a step in the right direction.
"What I've heard is open acknowledgement that there is racism, that there's discrimination and that there is a need for people to recognize that and to talk about it openly and it's time to start that discussion," McNeilly said.
"I heard that a lot tonight and that made a difference for me."
With files from Jody Porter