Thunder Bay

Amid complaints and investigations, Thunder Bay police chief asks residents to back the force

Thunder Bay police Chief Sylvie Hauth says she remains “100 per cent” certain that the community should trust the ability of the police service to fulfil its mandate. Hauth spoke to CBC as complaints mount against the police force in Ontario's north.

14 sudden deaths involving Indigenous people recommended for reinvestigation

Sylvie Hauth, police chief in Thunder Bay, Ont., told CBC News she believes the community, including Indigenous people, should still have confidence in the police service. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

Thunder Bay's police chief insists the community should have confidence in the service in Ontario's north, despite a new report that has recommended the reinvestigation of more cases and as her leadership team faces several human rights complaints.

In an interview Wednesday with CBC News, Sylvie Hauth said she remains "100 per cent" certain that the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) should be trusted to fulfil its mandate.

"I have said publicly that I will co-operate 100 per cent fully with all the investigations that are currently underway," she said. "You need to let due process take place. And for me and all the members of my service, public safety is paramount. We are here. We have a job to do. There are a lot of issues in our community that we address, that we take care of.

"That is our role, to ensure public safety, community work, safety and well-being. There are challenges and challenges will continue ahead. We don't lose sight of the role that we play and we do that to the best of our abilities." 

Hauth spoke after CBC News obtained a leaked document earlier this week by the executive governance council established to oversee the recommendations from the Broken Trust report. The document called for the reinvestigation of 14 deaths between 2009 and 2016.

The police service also has 25 unsolved cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) that are recommended for review.

Those developments come while the police service — and its chief — face at least nine complaints filed by current or former officers alleging discrimination and human rights violations.

Some First Nations leaders in northern Ontario are calling for the TBPS to be disbanded, with a Nishnawbe Aski Nation deputy grand chief telling CBC News that many people have lost faith they will get justice.

"It's quite evident that they're [the police service] not fulfilling their responsibility and their role, and that needs to change," said Anna Betty Achneepineskum. "There are many people who have lost faith that they will get justice."

Police under the microscope for years

The police service and its oversight board had been subject to parallel probes run by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, which produced final reports in 2018.

Hauth was hired as full-time police chief in late 2018 — about a month prior to those reports being released — after having served two interim stints. She had spent 25 years with the police service, beginning as a front desk cadet and rose to the rank of deputy chief.

I've dedicated myself to ensure that we have the proper resources, that we have the proper staff, that we have qualified staff.- Sylvie Hauth, police chief in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"I've dedicated myself to ensure that we have the proper resources, that we have the proper staff, that we have qualified staff," she said. 

"I've ensured that I cultivate my relationships with everyone here in Thunder Bay, but very much specifically with a lot of our Indigenous partners and organizations."

The OIPRD review resulted in the Broken Trust report, which found Thunder Bay police conducted insufficient investigations into several sudden deaths of Indigenous people and outlined 44 recommendations, including nine cases to be reinvestigated.

The reinvestigations of those nine cases took two years, and while a number of specific deficiencies were detailed in the leaked report, the original determination was maintained for eight, while one was changed from accidental to an undetermined manner of death.

14 more cases recommended for reinvestigation

Hauth said the additional deaths recommended for reinvestigation came after 1,700 cases between 2009 and 2017 were reviewed, with 229 of those examined by other law enforcement agencies.

A lot has changed and evolved in recent years about how investigations are conducted, she said.

Hauth said there can be as many as 300 deaths in Thunder Bay in a year. The nine reinvestigations utilized a lot of resources and technology, she added.

"Those are things that, as a service, we've been able to implement over the years but things that possibly in 2000 we did not have access to," she said. "In terms of scene reconstruction, we did not have 3D technology nor did we have a drone. Those are things along the way that have changed that have really changed the landscape and added to our investigative techniques and technology."

In addition to the leaked report, the executive governance council is working on preparing  an investigative framework document that will establish best practices going forward.

"I'm hoping that speaks to itself in terms of our commitment as a service, in terms of our dedication to the work and our commitment not only to the work that we do, but to our community," Hauth said.