Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay police board member details Ontario human rights complaint, calls for new leadership

Georjann Morriseau, a member of the Thunder Bay, Ont., police board, has filed a human rights complaints over alleged harassment and discrimination. The board says it "is committed to ensuring that adequate and effective policing is provided to the community."

Georjann Morriseau's media call to address allegations cut short after attendee airs adult content

Georjann Morriseau, a member of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, says a change of leadership within the police service is needed. Morriseau has filed an Ontario human rights complaint alleging discrimination and harassment. (Georjann Morriseau/Facebook)

A member of the Thunder Bay, Ont., police board has filed human rights complaints alleging harassment and discrimination, and emphasizes the need for new police leadership.

In speaking Thursday about her complaint, Georjann Morriseau said it's time for a third party to gain oversight of the police service. 

"Not only does the Police Services Board require oversight once again by someone other than ourselves, I also believe that part of that oversight needs to have a structural accountability tied to it," she said. "Right now there isn't enough accountability between board and the proper oversight bodies."

Morriseau is a municipal appointee who joined the board in 2019. She also is a former chair.

Earlier this week, she published a letter on social media that stated the police service "is on the brink of collapse at the hands of its board, its leadership and its administration."

On Thursday, Morriseau held a virtual news conference, saying, "There's no leadership, there's no systemic remedies, there's no systemic reform, a change or anything there to empower the members of the service to be their best and do their best." 

But the news conference was cut short after an attendee aired adult content on the video call. 

Morriseau alleges the lack of leadership begins at the board and continues down to rank-and-file officers who can't speak out about issues they're facing. 

"We fail to uphold our duty to the service and all the members, and we fail to uphold public trust," said Morriseau, former chief of the Ojibway First Nation of Fort William.

The comments are Morriseau's first public statements since she filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, naming the board, Thunder Bay Police Service and police Chief Sylvie Hauth. The complaint alleges that during Morriseau's time as a board member, she has faced discrimination and harassment because she's Indigenous.

That complaint was filed in October. The allegations have not been tested in court. 

CBC News has requested a copy of the complaint from the tribunal, but has not yet received a copy. 

Thursday's media conference, scheduled as a followup to the letter, included Morriseau and her lawyer, Chantelle Bryson, providing more details about the allegations.

Allegations of discrimination, harassment 

Morriseau's complaint stems from a series of incidents going back to August 2020, Bryson said.

At the time, Morriseau was shopping in Thunder Bay when she was approached by an individual who identified himself as a police officer.

Morriseau didn't recognize the officer who spoke to her about a rumour regarding another officer, who allegedly received a text message on a recycled work phone from the administrator of a social media page that makes regular posts about crime in the city. The second officer deleted the text, and reported it to a supervisor.

Bryson said Morriseau had been asking for "meaningful reports" on the implementation of recommendations made in the Office of the Independent Police Review Director's Broken Trust report, and former senator Murray Sinclair's report, on systemic racism within the Thunder Bay Police Service and police board.

Bryson said that following the encounter with the unknown officer, Morriseau was repeatedly questioned by senior Thunder Bay police officers and Ontario Provincial Police, accused of lying, and threatened with criminal charges over her inability to identify the officer. Those questions didn't pertain to the text message itself or the officer it was initially intended for.

Morriseau filed a complaint regarding harassment and discrimination with the board, which sent the matter to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission and asked it to investigate. The commission didn't move beyond the preliminary stage in that process, Bryson said.

Some months later, Morriseau found out Hauth had also asked the OPP to investigate her for breach of trust, he said. 

CBC News requested interviews with police officials and the police board on Thursday. The police service directed CBC to the statement it released earlier in the week.

Police face multiple human rights complaints 

Morriseau alleges she found out about the investigation against her — which did not find any potential criminal activity — in a report to the police board.

That report, her lawyer said, also noted Hauth retained a private criminal lawyer in Toronto to assess the potential case against Morriseau, and also engaged the attorney general's office and solicitor general's office to have lawyers look into matter.

That all led to Morriseau's human rights complaint. 

Morriseau isn't the only client Bryson represents who has filed complaints against the police and police board.

"I also represent eight officers of the Thunder Bay Police Service, and two civilians of the service, in Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario claims against senior administration of the Thunder Bay Police Service and the Thunder Bay Police Services Board," Bryson said.

Bryson said she's had to turn away another six members of the police service, whose complaints were beyond the tribunal's time limit. 

In late 2020, retired officer Kelly Walsh filed a humant rights complaint alleging his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was triggered by discrimination and harassment that contributed to the end of his 33-year career.

Bryson said she's still receiving inquiries from other members of the police service regarding the possibility of filing human rights complaints.

"It is extraordinary, after 20 years of practice, to see any member of a police force publicly file against its leadership and board," Bryson said.

There are 11 other human rights complaints related to mental health, discrimination and misconduct that have been filed against the police leadership and oversight board, Bryson said, adding officers don't feel their concerns are being taken seriously, and in some cases say they've faced retribution after raising issues.

"We call this a public crisis," Bryson said. "Reconciliation, workplace for officers, and public safety and confidence in the Thunder Bay Police Service [is] at stake."

The police board was disbanded in 2018 following former senator Murray Sinclair's investigation into allegations of systemic racism within the board. An administrator was temporarily put in place to oversee board operations.

When asked if she believed a change of leadership within the police service is needed, Morriseau replied, "Absolutely I do."

Board says allegations 'without substance'

In a statement released Thursday following the news conference, the board says it "is committed to ensuring that adequate and effective policing is provided to the community."

"We have not received notice from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario of any applications," the statement reads. "We have followed every process available to us under the Police Services Act to address and forward complaints to the appropriate bodies, including the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC).

"We also reject any allegation that the board has met 'secretly' without member Morriseau present; no such meetings have occurred and these along with other allegations are without substance."

It's the second statement released this week by the board. 

The first statement was distributed following the publication of Morriseau's letter, and said the board is "working to provide the policing that our communities expect and deserve."

"In addition, we'd like to add that the board (with the exception of member Morriseau) is united, working well and far from 'collapse,'" the statement reads. "We are committed to building a police service that is constantly improving, meeting challenges and working in the best interest of citizens."

Thunder Bay police Chief Sylvie Hauth, shown in a file photo, is among those named in Morriseau's complaint. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

Thunder Bay police did not provide any further comment on Thursday. However, Hauth released a statement following the publication of Morriseau's letter.

"I would like to echo the words of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board," Hauth said. "We are working together to provide a high level of policing which the community has come to expect."

The statement points out that the service continues to work toward implementing the 80 recommendations made in the Ontario Independent Police Review Director's Broken Trust report, and it's expected that will be completed by spring.

"The chief of police, deputy chief and the senior management of the TBPS are committed to public safety, responsible management and the well-being of all the sworn and civilian members of our police service," the statement reads. "I appreciate the leadership and the direction provided by the Thunder Bay Police Services Board."