'Last chance' for Thunder Bay Police Service as it prepares to discuss finding a new chief
City's police board on Tuesday to talk on 2023 retirement of Sylvie Hauth, who faces PSA charges
Thunder Bay's police services board today will hold its first discussions on replacing Chief Sylvie Hauth, days after the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) announced there would be hearings into misconduct allegations against the 30-year veteran of the force.
On Thursday, Hauth announced she would not seek an extension of her current contract and would retire as police chief next June.
Later the same day, the OCPC announced it had served Hauth with a notice of hearing, following an investigation into allegations of misconduct.
"I wasn't surprised at the announcement of retirement," said Michael Kempa, a criminology professor with the University of Ottawa. "I was surprised that the OCPC, the oversight body at the provincial level, would be carrying on with its investigation.
"They had been ongoing with the investigation since February with respect to allegations against the deputy chief, that he had conducted an inappropriate investigation against the police services board member. And of course, the allegations against the outgoing chief are that she misrepresented this investigation to members of the Police Services Board, amongst other things."
Hauth faces three counts under the Ontario's Police Services Act (PSA):
- That she failed to take the appropriate steps to address allegations against Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes.
- That she provided misinformation about that investigation to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB).
- That she failed to take the appropriate steps to address allegations of wrongdoing about other members of the Thunder Bay police.
None of the allegations have been proven in legal proceedings.
The police service has been under intense scrutiny and pressure in recent months. Some current and former employees have filed human rights complaints against police administration, and the OPP has also launched an investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct against police service members.
The police union, meanwhile, has characterized the relationship between its members and Hauth as "fractured," and has called for the service to go outside its ranks when hiring a new chief.
That came as a surprise to Kempa.
"It's quite unusual for a union to say, 'Let's go outside the service,'" he said. "But I would say that that would likely be very important.
"The only thing I would underline, though, is you could find the most progressive, ingenious police leader in the world — on their own, they will not be able to reform the Thunder Bay Police Service. As everyone knows, there's a lot of problems with governance of Thunder Bay policing.
"The police services board there is under a sort of caretaker arrangement with that administrator, who has all of the voting rights at the moment. That's got to be sorted out."
Kempa said he expects "up-and-coming" leaders to apply for the police chief job, as they'll have the energy to tackle the problems with the service and success in Thunder Bay would help their careers.
As of late Monday afternoon, there was nothing on the Tuesday police board meeting agenda that specifically pertains to the PSA charges against Hauth.
However, the board is expected to discuss the process to replace Hauth and potentially hire a recruitment firm to handle the search for a new chief.
A proposed timeline to be presented to the board states a new chief could be in place by December.
Peter Collins, chief of Fort William First Nation, said Monday he hopes Thunder Bay's new police chief will be committed to building a strong relationship with Indigenous people.
"Understanding our rich cultural traditions and understanding the treaty and obligations that are made through the treaty, I think that's an important aspect of the police chief's responsibility as they represent the City of Thunder Bay."
Collins said he has met with police services board administrator Malcolm Mercer and told him he would like to see someone from Fort William First Nation involved in the selection process.
"He's open to that for sure. He likes the idea and hopefully we can find somebody that really will represent us in the selection process."
Kempa said he believes this is the "last chance" for the city's police service.
"If the ship can't be righted, if we can't see and demonstrate an increase in community satisfaction across all racialized groups, especially Indigenous Peoples in and around Thunder Bay, the OCPC will step in at that point, and perhaps even disband Thunder Bay Police Service and replace it with the OPP. I don't think they want to go there. I think that they would prefer to see a success with the Thunder Bay Police Service, but this really would be the last possibility."
Tuesday's police board hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. ET and will take place at the Delta Hotel on Sleeping Giant Parkway.
It will also be livestreamed on the board's website.