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Thunder Bay police board acknowledges 'unequivocally' existence of systemic racism

Members of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board have acknowledged "unequivocally" that systemic racism exists in both the Thunder Bay Police Service and the civilian oversight board, after reviewing reports from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

Community circle providing acknowledgement, public apology planned for January 2019

Members of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, including board chair Celina Reitberger (left), had their first meeting on Tuesday with the new administrator, Thomas Lockwood. (Cathy Alex)

Members of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board have acknowledged "unequivocally" that systemic racism exists in both the Thunder Bay Police Service and the civilian oversight board, after reviewing reports from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

The acknowledgement, delivered during Tuesday's scheduled meeting, came after the two highly-critical reports, which were released within two days of each other, slammed the local force and the police services board and pointed to a crisis of systemic racism.

"By making this statement we want to acknowledge that the board has failed the Indigenous community," Thunder Bay Police Services Board chair Celina Reitberger, stated in a written release, which was read into the record as part of Tuesday's meeting.

During an interview with CBC News, Reitberger said the focus is on systemic racism, which means they are not pointing the finger at any specific officer or person.

"Don't forget that first word, because if you forget the first word, then people start taking it personally," Reitberger said. "We are not selecting or pointing at anyone and saying 'you're a racist person.'"

"We are all in this together," she said, "so the more that we can collaborate and cooperate, the faster and easier its' going to be to move forward."

Reitberger also noted that while changes must be made, it is important to support the people working for the force.

"One of the officers, when I gave him a compliment the other day, said 'well thank you for that because it's been a really rough week.'"

Cultural training and community circle

Reitberger said she will begin facilitating cultural education for the board by consulting with her elders and people who "give this type of training."

A community circle is also being planned for January 2019, at which the board "will publicly acknowledge the existence of systemic racism and apologize for it," Reitberger said in her statement.

Sylvie Hauth, (centre) chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service, confers with chair Celina Reitberger (left), administrator Thomas Lockwood (second from left) and Thunder Bay city clerk John Hannam. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

"I think it's crucial ... and I think that everybody is waiting to see how that plays out," she said.  

"Just saying it into a microphone at this point of time is not really powerful enough."

Reitberger said she's also excited about some new ideas recommended by the board's administrator, Thomas Lockwood.

"He talked about perhaps streaming the meetings ... opening up the meetings, inviting people to come and see what we are doing and also I'm very excited about the development of a website so that we can post the minutes of the meeting," Reitberger said.

There are two vacancies on the board: one municipal and one provincial. Reitberger encouraged anyone in the Indigenous community who is interested in sitting on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to send in their application. 

Police chief Sylvie Hauth to "formulate an action plan"

Sylvie Hauth, the chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) responded to the board's statement on Tuesday, stating in a written release that "the reports clearly state the need for a thoughtful and impactful plan to address the issues of systemic racism within the Service and the Board." 

Hauth noted she will be "consulting with senior administration and the members of the service in early January to formulate an action plan."

"I will also be working closely with the police services board administrator to ensure that the TBPS moves forward to meet the community's expectations," Hauth said in her statement, which she read out during the meeting.

An initial report on the progress to-date is scheduled to be released in January at a meeting of the police services board.

The OIPRD also expects a six-month progress report, which the force "will work to ensure that date is adhered to."

Lockwood estimated that the board members' voting rights could be restored as early as February 2019, if they have completed the necessary training.