Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay police chief to meet with province over closure of youth justice facilities

Thunder Bay's police chief will meet with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services over concerns about the province's plan to close some residential youth justice facilities, and reduce the bed counts in others.

Two centres in Thunder Bay closed by province, bed counts at two other city facilities reduced

Thunder Bay police headquarters.
The Thunder Bay Police Service has spent more than anticipated on its COVID-19 response so far in 2021. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Thunder Bay's police chief will meet with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services over concerns about the province's plan to close some residential youth justice facilities and reduce the bed counts in others.

Earlier this month, the province announced it would close 10 of the facilities in northern Ontario, including two in Thunder Bay: the seven-bed Jack McGuire Centre and the 11-bed JJ Kelso Youth Centre.

Two other Thunder Bay facilities —  the Kairos Youth Residence and the Bruce J. McKitrick Centre — will also have their bed counts reduced from eight to seven.

In a letter addressed to northern Ontario chiefs of police, the province said the closures come after an 81 per cent reduction in youth admitted to custody and detention centres in Ontario between 2004-04 and 2019-20.

The letter states the reduction means there are 8,500 fewer admissions currently than there were in 2004-05; the province said the change is due to a focus on "prevention, diversion and community-based programs."

Thunder Bay police Chief Sylvie Hauth told the police services board on Tuesday morning that the province's announcement came as a surprise, and will mean that in some cases, youth will need to be transferred to facilities outside of Thunder Bay, far from family members, due to a lack of beds in the city.

"My letter to the ministry focused on operations primarily, but not negating the fact that there is a huge component in terms of the well-being of these youth who currently are being displaced, moved quite far away from family members due to the closure of quite a few beds here locally, but also whole institutions and whole services in some of the communities," Hauth told the police board.

"There's really no beds here in Thunder Bay," she said. "Am I looking now at, for example, taking two officers to escort a youth to the closest bed, which could be Kenora, which is quite the drive."

Hauth said the ministry has agreed to meet with her to discuss her concerns, but no meeting date has been set.

COVID-19 spending up

Meanwhile, the board heard police have spent more on COVID-19 expenses so far in 2021 than initially expected.

Last year, the police service spent nearly $90,000 on its pandemic response, with specific expenses including increased sanitization and cleaning of vehicles, personal protective equipment, and cleaning supplies, as well as wages and overtime needed to cover for staff who were required to self-isolate.

The numbers were included in a report on the 2020 police operating budget, which was presented to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board on Tuesday morning.

During the presentation, Dawn Paris, the police service's director of financial services and facilities, said COVID-19 costs are higher than anticipated so far in 2021.

"I think we've increased some of the PPE to the service as a whole as we migrate through this [COVID-19] pandemic," Paris told the board. "So I think that perhaps, that might be a little bit higher than we had estimated."

No specific amounts in terms of 2021 COVID-19 spending were included Tuesday's presentation.

The police service reported a positive variance of about $199,000 in its 2020 operating budget.