Thunder Bay

'Show us the money' to fight guns and gangs, says chair of Thunder Bay police board

The chief of police in Thunder Bay and the head of the city's police services board are again appealing to the Ontario government for money to deal with the growing problem of guns and gangs. The request comes after a shooting Tuesday in the city which left a southern Ontario man in hospital.

Drug-related shooting in city that sent southern Ont man to hospital sign gang violence increasing say police

Celina Reitberger is the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board. She wants the Ontario government to give city police more money to fight guns and gangs. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

The chief of police in Thunder Bay and the head of the city's police services board are again appealing to the Ontario government for money to deal with the growing problem of guns and gangs.

The request comes after a shooting Tuesday on the city's south side, which sent a southern Ontario man to hospital in serious condition.

Police investigators said they do not believe the shooting was a random occurrence, and that it was drug-related.

'It can't go on this way'

In August, the Ontario government announced that the federal government was transferring $65-million over five years to fund initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence and gang activity, but so far none of that money has been earmarked for Thunder Bay, although the Greater Toronto Area and the Ottawa region have been named as recipients.

"It's unconscionable," said Celina Reitberger, the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board. "We need money to fight this problem because when we had our presentation we saw just how deep it runs in our community and also that it targets the most vulnerable people in our society."

"It can't go on this way," she emphasized.

Accused often have loaded handguns

Sylvie Hauth, chief of police in Thunder Bay, Ont., addresses delegates to the annual Police Zone 1 conference in the city. The event brings together police chiefs and members of their service boards from across northwestern Ontario to discuss issues affecting community safety. (Thunder Bay Police Service/Twitter)

The presentation to which Reitbergber referred was made during the annual Police Zone 1 meetings in Thunder Bay on Oct. 9 - 10. The event brings together police chiefs and members of their service boards from across the northwest – in a region extending from Marathon to James Bay-area to the Manitoba boundary – to discuss the challenges they're facing keeping their communities safe.

One of the biggest issues for Sylvie Hauth, the chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service, is the infiltration of gangs and associated violence, often from southern Ontario.

"Through the many warrants that we're doing a lot of our accused have, in their possession, loaded handguns and that's the frightening part," she said.

'Plane, train or automobile' all used to move drugs

"I think what you see right now is that we have a very lucrative market so people are coming here very freely, saying 'I'm making double or triple the money I could make [in southern Ontario] and a lot quicker'", said Hauth.

Police in southern Ontario are using those new dollars from government to launch more intensive campaigns aimed at combating gang activity. For instance, in the Ottawa area the money is being used to strengthen prosecutorial support for complex investigative projects and an intensive firearms and gang-specific bail strategy.

But as police pressure on gangs builds in southern Ontario, the problem just keeps moving north, said Hauth, who has made several requests to the provincial government for additional funding.

"So if you have a tighter presence or more programs in place that may be a stronger impetus for people to keep coming to Thunder Bay and the northwest to continue with their drug trafficking," she said, noting that the TBPS works closely with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) and their respective boards on joint operations to control gang activity in the region.

'Impact on community safety'

Money to fight guns and gangs in northwestern Ontario. It was high on the agenda at a series of meetings in Thunder Bay this week. Police chiefs and members of police service boards are sharing the challenges of keeping their communities safe. 8:16

Those collaborations are vital she said, because "we're seeing across Canada people who are smuggling drugs by plane, train or automobile, they're coming this way [through northwestern Ontario] and it has an impact on community safety for all of us."

That's why Reitberger, who is still waiting for the Ontario government to fill its vacancy on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, plans to take action.

"One of our biggest upcoming efforts on the part of the board will be to go personally to the government and say 'show us the money'".

The Police Zone 1 meetings are scheduled to conclude Thursday in Thunder Bay. Officials from the ministry of the solicitor general are expected to be in attendance.