Thunder Bay

Administrator put in charge of Thunder Bay police oversight body details divisions, governance failings

The administrator appointed to oversee the Thunder Bay Police Services Board says he's found a divided group and “a very concerning failure” to act on past recommendations. Malcolm Mercer also says in his newly released report that "the board was not equipped to do all that was asked of it."

Ontario Civilian Police Commission released report from Malcolm Mercer on Thursday

Malcolm Mercer was appointed in April to be administrator of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in northwestern Ontario. (Malcolm Mercer/Twitter)

The administrator tapped to oversee the Thunder Bay Police Services Board says in a report released Thursday that he has found a divided group and "a very concerning failure" to act on past recommendations.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) released Malcolm Mercer's report on Thursday, about five months after he was appointed to take control of the city's police oversight body.

His appointment is the second time in the past four years that a provincially assigned administrator has been tasked with running the police board. It has been attempting to emerge from a period of turmoil following an extensive review by Murray Sinclair that led to the previous board being dismantled in 2018, along with a series of recommendations.

Mercer notes in his report, which was submitted last month, that he did not characterize his review as an investigation, but he has reached some conclusions about what had happened within the board that led to his appointment.

Fears there may be more 'failure'

Mercer said appointing new board members and new police leadership would not be enough to address the policing environment in the city.

"While I conclude that board did not implement recommendations, policies and procedures as they should have done, I also conclude that the board was not equipped to do all that was asked of it," he wrote. 

"A small part-time board with part-time support will not accomplish what is needed in Thunder Bay. If all that happens is the appointment of new people, there is the very real prospect of yet another failure to advance crucial goals."

Mercer listed a significant number of Sinclair's recommendations that have not been implemented, including the first one, which is for a clear statement of the board's role in governing the police service.

"While the board has dealt with day-to-day matters and has done good work in developing the Strategic Plan and the Building Project, there has been unacceptable delay in advancing the OCPC recommendations and insufficient attention to policy implications" of the recommendations of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), he wrote.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission on Thursday released a report from Mercer, who says he's reached some conclusions about what had happened within the police services board that led to his appointment. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Conflict and divisions

In the report, Mercer also highlighted multiple events that created conflict and deep divisions within the police service and the board, involving board member Georjann Morriseau, Chief Sylvie Hauth and multiple higher-ranking officers. 

In June 2020, then chair Morriseau intervened in a contractual grievance process with the association representing officers and made an agreement without the involvement of Hauth or the board.

Later that summer, Morriseau was approached in a store by an officer who said he suspected another officer was involved in leaking confidential information. That encounter, which Morriseau brought to the attention of Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, launched a sequence of events that led to an investigation into whether Morriseau committed breach of trust. Provincial police have since found there were no grounds to lay charges against Morriseau.

The handling of the situation by Hauth and Hughes is at the core of what led to the suspension of the two from their jobs.

At the time of Mercer's appointment in March, the board was facing a crisis in leadership swirling with a series of human rights complaints filed by Morriseau, as well as current and former officers. Hughes had been suspended, and provincial police confirmed they had initiated a criminal investigation involving members of the Thunder Bay Police Service. 

Three of the five board members — chair Kristen Oliver and provincial appointees Michael Power and Roydon Pelletier — resigned from their roles upon Mercer's appointment.

Before that, the board had struck an independent expert panel to create recommendations to improve policing in Thunder Bay.

That panel held a series of public consultations in Thunder Bay during the summer, and in July, panel chair Alok Mukherjee said he hoped to have a series of interim recommendations submitted within a matter of weeks.