An All-Pervading Rot: Thunder Bay Police Service Again Under Scrutiny For Systemic Racism Found In Reinvestigation Process.

Six years after the Seven Youth Inquest and four years after the publication of the OIPRD’s Broken Trust report and the Sinclair Report calling for the dissolution of the Thunder Bay Police Service (“TBPS”) Board, the TBPS once again finds itself in the spotlight for significant, systemic failings at the leadership, board, and service level.

As of March 2022, the TBPS is now subject to three separate investigations related to misconduct of the highest order. The Solicitor General of Ontario revealed in early February 2022 that the Ontario Civilian Police Commission is investigating alleged misconduct by TBPS leadership, including Chief of Police Sylvia Hauth, suspended Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, and TBPS legal counsel Holly Walbourne. Separately, the Attorney General of Ontario announced (also in February 2022!) that the Ontario Provincial Police is investigating criminal misconduct on the part of service members. Meanwhile, the SIU is investigating alleged officer misconduct in the investigation into the death of Aaron Loon, a 20-year-old Indigenous man whose death was reinvestigated in the wake of the Broken Trust report. The TBPS Board is also currently subject to no less than nine separate human rights complaints filed by current and former members of the service.

All this comes against the backdrop of a report-back from the Broken Trust Executive Governance Committee, tasked with reinvestigating nine (9) deaths that were inadequately or improperly investigated by the TBPS. While the premise of the reinvestigation response to the Broken Trust recommendations was based on collaboration, sharing and learning, evidence of systemic racism was recognized during the reinvestigation process.

Additionally, the report-back recommends that the reinvestigation into the death of Stacy DeBungee should be completed separately from the reinvestigation of the nine deaths, given that three TBPS officers are facing Police Services Act proceedings relating to the initial mishandling of the investigation.

Falconers LLP founding partner Julian Falconer, who represents the family of the late Stacy DeBungee, whose death triggered the complaints that resulted in the Broken Trust and Sinclair reports, said:

“The rot at the Thunder Bay Police is permitted to go on because those in power in Thunder Bay allow it to go on. Each time we peel away a layer, we see deeper rot. If these were the deaths of white folks, if the families affected were non-Indigenous families, would the Thunder Bay police service even exist today? Only in the circumstances of Indigenous people would this ever be accepted in this country. It’s extremely discouraging and demoralizing and how this police service manages to stay in business one more day is totally beyond me.”

The TBPS has undergone years of turmoil since its 2018 dissolution based on the recommendation of Sen. Murray Sinclair, and the systemic racism identified not just within the service, but at an institutional level as well.

Two years ago, Thomas Lockwood – the TBPS’s temporary administrator following the Board’s dissolution – claimed, “We have a strong, educated Board with a plate of work, we have a strong police association dedicated to protecting its membership, we have an excellent Chief and Deputy Chief committed to repairing relationships with the Indigenous community.” Today, that same TBPS Board faces mounting calls to, once again, be disbanded and be taken over by another administrator. This leaves community members all asking the same question: which police service was Mr. Lockwood looking at when he painted that portrait?

For more on this topic, see:

APTN News (March 7, 2022), Video Interview with Julian Falconer: “Lawyer shares thoughts on report calling for re-investigates into sudden deaths.”

APTN News (March 7, 2022), Taskforce calls on police to reinvestigate 14 deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.

Report-back to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director on the Reinvestigation Recommendations (1-4) Identified in the Broken Trust Systemic Review – Submitted by the Executive Governance Committee – March 2022

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