Thunder Bay

Calls to defund police provide push to look at systemic reform, says Thunder Bay police board chair

As demands to defund police grow louder in many Canadian communities, the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB), said systemic change is required but did not call for cuts to the service’s budget.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations will impact discussions around board table, says chair Georjann Morriseau

Georjann Morriseau, chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, said systemic change is required but did not call for cuts to the service's budget. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

As demands to defund police grow louder in many Canadian communities, the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB), said systemic change is required but did not call for cuts to the service's budget.

"Systemic racism, systemic discrimination, systemic disparity those are often the result of a system that is empowered to operate a certain way and so those types of systems are the things that we really need to focus on and come up with a more inclusive community policing effort," said Georjann Morriseau, who is a member of Fort William First Nation.

The actions and budgets of police services around the world have come under scrutiny since May 25 when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes.

Cities and towns are now examining the idea of of taking money from the local police budget and applying it to social programs aimed at reducing poverty, homelessness and discrimination.

"Though I don't necessarily support defunding police entirely, or at all for that matter, I can fully empathize with those who make those calls. It comes from a place of great frustration, it comes from a place of tragedy, it comes from a place of disparity and I relate to that," said Morriseau.

'Push for us to take strong hard look'

"This should be another push for us to take a strong hard look at what it is we can do more of."

Reports by both the Ontario Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission found systemic racism to be an issue at both the service and board level.

Morriseau said moving forward, the TBPSB and the service must collaborate on an action plan that reflects both the needs and demands of the community.

"If we want something to live on, it has to be sustainable, it has to be in line with the public's expectations, and it has to be supportive," she said. "Systemic reform is more than just 'let's do this' without having a full plan to manage that right down to the front lines."

Policing reform, Morriseau said, involves looking at everything from training of officers to an examination of the northwestern Ontario city's demographics.

Board can identify social issues as priorities

"Thunder Bay has an increasingly more vulnerable population overall," she said, while also acknowledging that funding and resources are tight.

"But despite that the board and the service do, and can … identify priorities that address broader community issues that are out there, like mental health and addiction, homelessness, racism."

The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) has taken steps to deal with some of those issues including launching an organizational change project with the goal of diversifying the ranks, a body-worn camera pilot project and pairing officers with mental health workers to respond to certain calls.

Morriseau believes the possibility exists to take some of those initiatives a step further and feels that police, along with municipal and social groups should examine pooling their resources in order to tackle social problems.

People need to see change 'in order to believe'

"Investing as individual services collectively towards one model or one approach," she said.

Moving forward, Morriseau said it's important there be a clear strategy, with ways to measure results and a process for accountability "so the public can hold our feet to the fire when we're not following through."

She said she is committed to showing the public a plan for progress and positive change, even if those changes are small at first.

"They need to see in order to believe, and I stand with them on that."

CBC contacted the Thunder Bay Crime Prevention Council (CPC) about the issue of defunding police. In an emailed statement, a council spokesperson said  "at this time, we do not have a CPC meeting scheduled to discuss this topic."

You can hear the full interview with Georjann Morriseau on CBC's Superior Morning here.

now