Ontario watchdog announces misconduct hearing for Thunder Bay police chief on day she says she'll retire
Sylvie Hauth 'will do everything I can to ensure a proper transition' before leaving 3-decade career in 2023
Just hours after Sylvie Hauth said she'll retire next year as Thunder Bay's police chief, Ontario's civilian police oversight agency announced Thursday it will hold a hearing into misconduct allegations against her.
Hauth has been accused of three counts of misconduct under Ontario's Police Services Act:
- That she failed to take the appropriate steps to address allegations against Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes.
- That she provided misinformation about that investigation to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.
- That she failed to take the appropriate steps to address allegations of wrongdoing about other members of the Thunder Bay police.
The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) has been investigating these charges since February. They have not been tested or proven, and a date has not been announced for the disciplinary hearing.
On Thursday morning, Hauth announced in a statement to media that she'll retire June 14, 2023.
She said she has informed the city's police services board of her impending retirement, which would come after 30 years in the force.
"I am hopeful that my one-year notice will provide adequate time for the board to initiate a recruitment and succession planning process for my replacement," her statement says. "I remain committed to my role as chief and will do everything I can to ensure a proper transition takes place with the newly appointed chief in 2023.
"In my capacity as chief of police, I have dedicated myself to organizational change within our service, in a collaborative, consistent and transparent way. I can say with confidence that the Thunder Bay Police Service will continue to evolve thanks to the people who remain focused on serving and protecting all members of this great community."
A police spokesperson said Thursday that Hauth is not doing interviews at this time, as her retirement announcement is on the agenda for next week's meeting of the police services board.
Bill Mauro, Thunder Bay's mayor and a member of the police board, said Thursday the process to replace Hauth will be discussed at the meeting.
Mauro also noted he doesn't have a vote, as the board is currently being overseen by an administrator.
"On a process like this, I'm not sure that I need a vote, but certainly, I think it's never too soon to start the process. And I don't mind saying that I really do hope ... that serious consideration is given to going outside of the service to find a full-time replacement."
Hauth was hired as full-time chief in late 2018 after serving two interim stints. Prior to that, she had spent 25 years with the police service, beginning as a front desk cadet and rising to the rank of deputy chief.
Colin Woods, president of the city's police union, said the last few years have been difficult for the association's members.
"The relationship between the association and the chief and some of her senior officers, some of the senior administration, it's been a fractured relationship," Woods told CBC News on Thursday.
When it comes to hiring Hauth's replacement, Woods also said he'd like to see the board "do the due diligence and not just pick the next person who they think is in line from our service."
Woods said he's not opposed to an internal hire, but he would also like to see the board "take a hard look outside of our service" when picking the next chief of police.
"I think maybe a fresh set of eyes, a fresh set of ears, somebody with no connections, somebody ... with no ties to the service, can come in and put their own stamp on this service," Wood said. "Form it and shape it the way they want it to be.
"I hope we just we get a leader that wants to work with the association, that wants to have a positive work environment."
Woods said the association would be watching the OCPC process "very closely" as it moves forward.
Intense year of pressure
The Thunder Bay Police Service as a whole has been under intense scrutiny and pressure from multiple directions for months.
Current and former employees have filed human rights complaints against police brass. Two of three police oversight agencies in Ontario plus Ontario Provincial Police have launched investigations into allegations of criminal misconduct against members of the force, including its leadership.
In March, a confidential report was leaked to media organizations, including CBC News, detailing serious concerns with TBPS investigations into the sudden deaths of almost exclusively Indigenous people, and a recommendation was issued to reinvestigate 14 deaths of Indigenous people, with the possibility of more to come.
First Nations leaders in northern Ontario then led calls for the service to be disbanded and replaced with OPP oversight.
WATCH | First Nations leaders in northwestern Ontario call for TBPS disbandment, OPP oversight:
In April, the OCPC appointed an administrator to oversee the Thunder Bay police oversight board, saying it believes "an emergency exists in the [Thunder Bay] board oversight." Shortly after that decision, a majority of the oversight board resigned.
Last week, lawyers made closing arguments in Police Services Act hearings against two officers charged with neglect of duty and discreditable conduct over their work investigating the 2015 death of Stacy DeBungee from Rainy River First Nation, whose body was found in the McIntyre River. That investigation took place well before Hauth became chief.
The case served as the impetus for a two-year investigation led by retired senator Murray Sinclair that found systemic racism in the TBPS. Hauth's term began about a month before the release of that report and a parallel OCPC report .
Hauth asked residents to back city police
In a March interview with CBC News, Hauth asked residents to continue to back the police force despite these ongoing issues with the service.
"I have said publicly that I will co-operate 100 per cent fully with all the investigations that are currently underway," she said at the time. "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."
She also said in March that the police force has evolved since those reports came out and the service remained dedicated to the community.
"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."