Thunder Bay police board investigator to recommend its dismantling for 1 year

The independent investigator probing the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in Ontario will recommend the local civilian oversight body be dismantled for one year and an administrator put in its place, CBC News has learned.

Sen. Murray Sinclair appointed to look into local board by civilian police commission in 2017

Sen. Murray Sinclair is set to release his report into the Thunder Bay Police Services Board on Friday. (CBC)

The independent investigator probing the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in Ontario will recommend the local civilian oversight body be dismantled for one year and an administrator put in its place, CBC News has learned.

Sen. Murray Sinclair will release his final report on the state of civilian police oversight and public confidence in policing in Thunder Bay on Friday.

The former lawyer and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was appointed by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission in July 2017 to look into its concerns over the ability of the police board — the civilians appointed to oversee the local force — to address issues raised by Indigenous leaders.

His report concludes failures by the board to heal distrust between the Indigenous community and police constitute an "emergency."

Sinclair's report will come two days after the release of a voluminous and highly critical report by the Ontario Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) into racism and the Thunder Bay Police Service. Gerry McNeilly's two-year investigation found systemic racism exists at an institutional level in the local force and calls for re-examination of at least nine sudden death cases involving Indigenous people.

CBC News has confirmed through multiple sources that among the findings in Sinclair's report are the Thunder Bay board has shown a lack of leadership that has left Thunder Bay police without effective governance and oversight. Sinclair also found that police, under the board's watch, lack policies to deal with a crisis in violent crime, with the board being disengaged from its role.

According to the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, local boards are responsible for monitoring a police service and its leader, and establishing priorities for police.

The Thunder Bay board is comprised of members of city council and people from the community who are appointed by the province.

Sinclair will recommend that an administrator temporarily take over for the existing board, until it can be overhauled with new members receiving proper training.

The Thunder Bay Police Services Board named its first Indigenous chair, lawyer Celina Reitberger, on Monday. She was appointed to the board in December 2017, after Sinclair's and McNeilly's reports were ordered. Reitberger — who is a member of Fort William First Nation — has said improving relationships between the police service, the board and the Indigenous community is a priority for her.

The October municipal election also brought two new faces to the board: Mayor Bill Mauro and Coun. Kristen Oliver.

According to Sinclair's report, the board has failed to ensure that Indigenous people have input into policing in Thunder Bay, stating that First Nations people are underrepresented on the force, with no strategy or policy to correct the imbalance. Additionally, non-Indigenous officers don't have access to adequate training on the history, culture and issues of the Indigenous community, he found.

OIPRD report 'honest,' 'real'

Sinclair's report is scheduled to be publicly released at 2:00 p.m. Friday. It will be the second report to be released concerning policing in Thunder Bay, after the public release of the report on McNeilly's probe.

For one person in the audience on Wednesday, it was an emotional experience.

Joyce Hunter, who lives in Thunder Bay and is originally from Weenusk First Nation, said she found the OIPRD report "honest," "real" and "an accurate assessment of the reality that we're currently living in."

Hunter said that the community as a whole has to understand the role it plays.
For Joyce Hunter, Wednesday's OIPRD report was 'honest' and 'real.' (CBC)

"He said that racism wasn't just an issue with a few officers, it was actually broader than that," she said of one of the findings in the police review director's report. "It was much more widespread."

"Many of the activities and ways the police service responds is the result of a historical way of doing things."

Hunter said she wants police Chief Sylvie Hauth to acknowledge the wider issues, and "allow that to sink in ... the depth and breadth and the reality of it, and just listen."

Hauth told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning that building trust "starts at the top."

"I lead this organization and I lead by example and I have very high standards," she said. "It's a matter of us continuing with this information, being informed, being at the table and being willing to engage."