Suspended over a year, Thunder Bay deputy police chief's future will soon be known amid leadership questions
Ontario city’s 2 top officers suspended in the past year, few details released to the public
Since this story was originally published, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board announced all but two of the allegations against Ryan Hughes were unsubstantiated and he would return to work. Follow this link to read the latest.
The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has completed an investigation into serious allegations of workplace harassment and misconduct against Thunder Bay police's deputy chief, Ryan Hughes, who has been suspended for over a year, CBC News has learned.
The Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB) suspended Hughes in January 2022 "pending an internal investigation" into what they would only call a human resources matter, according to a board statement at the time.
The board never revealed further details about what led to the suspension or what they were doing to address the HR matter, and didn't provide a timeline as to when a decision may be reached on the deputy chief's future.
Since then, CBC News has obtained confidential board documents that show two senior members of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) in the northwestern Ontario city filed separate complaints about Hughes. They included allegations of workplace harassment and misconduct that "may [have] criminal elements."
Those allegations were eventually handed to Toronto police to investigate, said board secretary John Hannam in an email. The investigation has since concluded, and the Thunder Bay police board is now reviewing a report and considering its response, with a decision expected "soon," he added.
Hannam did not say if the investigation found the allegations to be substantiated.
Now, alongside a decision on Hughes's future, the new police board is starting to take shape after imploding last spring, and a new police chief is expected to be in place in a matter of months after Sylvie Hauth avoided a public misconduct hearing by expediting her retirement.
But as the TBPS prepares to move forward, key questions from the past year of leadership crises remain — and the public may never get answers.
The history of police leadership troubles
One of the earliest signs of renewed troubles within the police service's leadership came after a shocking decision in January 2022, when the oversight board announced it was suspending Hughes.
Before becoming deputy chief, he spent 20 years in policing, most recently managing the criminal investigations and intelligence units as a detective inspector with the TBPS and previously worked with York Regional Police.
But in the year since the suspension, the police board has remained silent on the reasons for it or what type of investigation was underway.
By retiring or leaving a police service, the officer gives up that opportunity to present a full defence and potentially exonerate oneself from those allegations.- Matt Torigian, fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
In February 2022, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) began an investigation into allegations of misconduct against Hughes and then Chief Hauth, related to a 2020 criminal investigation of former board member Georjann Morriseau on allegations that were later found to be unsubstantiated.
In June, the OCPC investigation cleared Hughes of any wrongdoing, but he remained suspended.
Since then, CBC News has learned Hughes was also facing a different set of internal complaints filed by two senior members of the police service, in December 2021 and January 2022.
The complaints were brought to the police board during confidential, closed session meetings and included considerable detail and examples related to allegations of workplace harassment and conduct that is "dishonest, illegal and constitutes misconduct," according to the board documents obtained by CBC News.
Those documents have not been made public, and the allegations in the complaints have not been proven.
Those confidential documents show the board members were asked to consider a number of questions, including:
- Would an investigation into the allegations be compromised by the deputy chief's continued service?
- If the deputy chief remained at work, would that create a toxic environment?
- Is the deputy chief's alleged conduct so egregious that suspension is self-evident?
Ultimately, the board decided on Jan. 21, 2022, that Hughes's conduct "may constitute an offence under law … or misconduct" under the Police Services Act, and suspended Hughes pending the outcome of an investigation by another police service, the documents said.
CBC News sent a letter to Hughes asking for comment on these allegations, but had not received a response at time of publication.
Answers coming on future of police leadership
Hannam said he could not comment on the documents pertaining to Hughes's suspension without breaching confidentiality.
But he did confirm "the allegations that led to the suspension" were referred to the OCPC, which then asked Toronto police to carry out an investigation. That investigation has since concluded, and the board is considering how it will respond, he said.
Meanwhile, the hiring process for a new police chief is well underway.
Ken Boshcoff, Thunder Bay's mayor and a police board member, told TBNewswatch they have narrowed the search down to just two candidates, and he expects a final decision "in the very near future."
When CBC News reached out to Boshcoff, he said in a statement, "I regret that I have been advised not to speak to the media on this issue as long as the process is still continuing."
Hannam did confirm the police board hopes to have a new chief in place by late spring, and Dan Taddeo will continue as the TBPS's acting chief of the service until then.
Hauth's retirement cancels public misconduct hearing
News about the board's progress on hiring a new police chief comes just weeks after Hauth announced her early retirement in January.
The decision marked a shift from Hauth's previous announcement, that she would retire after her contract expired in June 2023.
It also brought an early end to her nearly five years as chief. The term was marked with difficulties including the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of human rights complaints, serious morale issues among officers, as well as several damning reports that found evidence of systemic racism within the force and detailed serious deficiencies in investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay over the last 20 years.
"The board thanks Chief Hauth for her 30-year service to our community and wishes her well in her retirement," said a public statement from the police services board, adding her retirement date would take effect Jan. 27, 2023.
Missing from the board's statement was any reference to the allegations of serious misconduct that were still hanging over Hauth.
In June 2022, the OCPC had charged Hauth with discreditable conduct in relation to her role in a criminal investigation initiated in 2020 against Morriseau, and then lying to the board twice about the investigation.
A five-day disciplinary hearing was set to begin on Feb. 6.
Once she retired as a police officer, Hauth was no longer subject to disciplinary actions under the Ontario's Police Services Act, and the OCPC no longer had jurisdiction to pursue a hearing.
Hauth did not respond to a letter sent by CBC News requesting comment on her decision to expedite her retirement and avoid the misconduct hearing.
It's "not unusual" for police officers to resign or retire before facing a misconduct hearing, said Matt Torigian, a former deputy solicitor general and police chief in Waterloo. Torigian now works as a distinguished fellow with the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
There are a number of examples of officers in Thunder Bay and across Canada doing the same: retiring before facing misconduct hearings and potentially being subject to discipline that could range from loss of annual leave time. to demotion to dismissal, he said.
"By retiring or leaving a police service, the officer gives up that opportunity to present a full defence and potentially exonerate oneself from those allegations, so it hangs out there," Torigian said.
"But at the same time, the public gives up the opportunity to hear in more detail what those allegations are about."