Thunder Bay·Audio

Formally acknowledging racism a 'starting point' on the 'right path,' says Thunder Bay police board chair

The three remaining members on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board are scheduled to meet on Tuesday for the first time with the newly-appointed board administrator, after the Ontario Civilian Police Commission stripped the board of its power.

Police services board chair Celina Reitberger says goal is to get voting rights restored quickly

Celina Reitberger is the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board. She was appointed as the first Indigenous chair of the local police board in December, 2018. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

The three remaining members on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board are scheduled to meet on Tuesday for the first time with the newly-appointed administrator, after the Ontario Civilian Police Commission stripped the board of its power.

That follows a highly critical report prepared by Sen. Murray Sinclair and released by the civilian police commission on Friday into how the board — the body of civilians charged with overseeing the local force — has responded to the concerns raised by the Indigenous community of systemic racism in Thunder Bay police.

Celina Reitberger, the newly-appointed chair of the police board, said the administrator, Thomas Lockwood, will consult with board members, including herself, Mayor Bill Mauro and Coun. Kristen Oliver, to make decisions as he will have sole voting rights until the board members complete special training.

"When a decision has to be made, he will be the one who makes it," Reitberger said. "I have already met with him ... and I think he is not going to be bossing me around, which is good to know."

"He has sought my input at every stage and basically said, 'you have to do everything, I'm just here to help.'"

Reitberger was appointed as the first Indigenous chair of the local police services board earlier this month and was the only one recommended to stay on by Sen. Murray Sinclair. Mauro and Oliver were just named to the board on Dec. 10, following their elections to Thunder Bay city council in October.

The only holdover from when Sinclair's report was ordered in the summer of 2017 was Don Smith, who resigned the same day the civilian police commission released the report. The terms of previous members, former chair Jackie Dojack, as well as Couns. Brian McKinnon and Joe Virdiramo expired and were not renewed. Virdiramo lost his council seat in October's election.

At a news conference on Monday at city hall, Mauro said he's concerned about the administrator having all the voting power for the near future, arguing that with a new board effectively in place, the new members should have a vote, especially over matters that could cost the city money.
Bill Mauro is the mayor of Thunder Bay. He also sits on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

"Why couldn't the administrator have been an advisor, not the decision-maker?" Mauro said in a prepared statement. "We're a new board, and, as well, the administrator will have, and be in a position as the only vote, to deal with not only the recommendations in Senator Sinclair's report, but also the recommendations that are in Gerry McNeilly's report.

"I do not know why I and others could not have been allowed to serve and to vote while receiving any training necessary." Mauro added that he has no issue with the training requirement itself.

Mauro said Sinclair's recommendations — and the police commission's subsequent ruling — "pushed to the side," two elected officials; he added that the city and police have already been taking steps to address many of the concerns highlighted in the two reports.

The city said that Lockwood's salary and any other associated costs will be covered by the commission.

Board chair proposes formal ceremony to get 'back on the right path'

Reitberger told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning that the board's first issue going forward is to "deal with the formal admission, pursuant to Murray Sinclair's request, that there is racism in the Thunder Bay police force."

"We're hoping to get together a group of elders and perhaps people who have in the past been subjected to racism and have ceremony and a formal open community event," Reitberger explained. "I think it's the police service that has to make that admission."
Celina Reitberger has been charged with the job of helping rebuild Thunder Bay's Police Service Board. The current board has been stripped of it's authority in the wake of a scathing report by Senator Murray Sinclair. Reitberger is the only person Sinclair recommends return to the board. 9:05

In the wake of the release of police review director Gerry McNeilly's report, a statement from the police service acknowledged it "must address the systemic racism, barriers and biases that exist within its service," after an initial statement only mentioned "systemic barriers."

The union representing Thunder Bay police officers, meanwhile, has said it does not accept "the repeated accusations that our members are racist."

Reitberger said a formal acknowledgement is the "starting point" in moving forward and "getting back on the right path."

"We even made the Washington Post," Reitberger added. "We have got to get our act together."

While the board continues to gather information and provide feedback to the administrator, Reitberger said its members will be working with an "expert in the field."

"He's going to help us with policies and procedures that are needed, and we're also going to look at the training," Reitberger added. "This training is going to happen stat, very quickly. We need to get our voting rights back."

Reitberger said the board is "actively" seeking other potential members to fill out its ranks.

With files from Superior Morning