OIPRD Finds Systemic Racism at Thunder Bay Police Service

Gerald McNeilly - OIRPD
Gerald McNeilly - OIRPD

THUNDER BAY – The Thunder Bay Police Service is struggling with systemic racism according to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).  The OIRPD has released its systemic review report on the relationship between the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and Indigenous communities, finding significant deficiencies in sudden death investigations involving Indigenous people that are due, in part, to racial stereotyping.

The Da Vinci Centre was full this morning for the release of the report. Newly appointed Police Services Board member Kristen Oliver was present, Mayor Bill Mauro arrived toward the end of the presentation. Thunder Bay City Manager Norm Gale was also present. Thunder Bay Police Services Chief of Police Sylvi Hauth was also in attendance.

The report does not paint a pretty picture of how the Thunder Bay Police Service had handled investigations, or developed community relations with the Indigneous community.

The report found a number of problems with how investigations are conducted. The OIRPD found that in many cases investigations where Indigenous people were found deceased that the Thunder Bay Police Service did not treat those deaths in the same manner as a non-Indigenous person’s death.

Gerald McNeilly - OIRPD
Gerald McNeilly – OIRPD

The report also addresses systemic racism within the service more generally and finds systemic racism exists at an institutional level.

“The serious inadequacies and premature conclusions in TBPS investigations of Indigenous missing persons and sudden deaths have strained what was already a deeply troubled relationship. My recommendations provide tools to help TBPS ensure that its investigations are thorough, effective and non-discriminatory. My recommendations also provide TBPS with a path forward to improve its relationship with Indigenous people,” states Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, who delivered a statement on the report at The Da Vinci Centre in Thunder Bay.

Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service, is the culmination of an extensive review and analysis of 37 TBPS investigations, dozens of interviews with former and current TBPS members, First Nations Police Services, Ontario’s Chief Coroner and Chief Forensic Pathologist, and more than 80 meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community and service organizations, individuals and Indigenous leaders. The report makes 44 recommendations, including:

  • The inadequacy of the TBPS sudden death investigations the OIPRD reviewed was so problematic that at least nine of the cases should be reinvestigated.
  • A multi-discipline team should be established to reinvestigate, at a minimum, the deaths of the nine Indigenous people identified. The team should include representatives from TBPS, a First Nations police service, outside police service(s), the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Office of the Chief Forensic Pathologist. The team should also establish a protocol for determining what additional death investigations should be reinvestigated.
  • TBPS should initiate an external peer-review process for sudden death and homicide investigations for at least the next three years.
  • TBPS should focus proactively on actions to eliminate systemic racism, including removing systemic barriers and the root causes of racial inequities in the service.
  • TBPS leadership should publicly and formally acknowledge that racism exists at all levels within the police service and that it will not tolerate racist views or actions. TBPS leadership should engage with Indigenous communities on the forum for and content of these acknowledgements. This would be an important step in TBPS advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.
  • The Thunder Bay Police Services Board should publicly and formally acknowledge racism exists within TBPS and take a leadership role in repairing the relationship between TBPS and Indigenous communities.
  • TBPS leadership should create a permanent advisory group involving the police chief and Indigenous leadership.
  • The Office of the Chief Coroner, Ontario’s Chief Forensic Pathologist, the Regional Coroner and TBPS should implement the Thunder Bay Death Investigations Framework on a priority basis. The framework clarifies roles and responsibilities, improves communication and increases information sharing to ensure objective, high-quality death investigations.

“TBPS has begun initiatives to improve investigations and that gives me cause for hope. I will monitor and report to the public the extent to which my recommendations are implemented. The community is entitled to no less. That represents my commitment to Indigenous people, TBPS and the broader community it is responsible for serving,” says Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director.

Thunder Bay Police Service Chief Sylvie Hauth issued a statement which was released during McNeilly’s media conference. “We acknowledge that there are systemic barriers in policing that must be addressed. This is a very extensive report and we will need time to study and consider all of the specific recommendations,” stated Chief Hauth. “With help from this report, the service continues to work towards bias-free policing. In the coming days, we will examine these recommendations. It is our hope that they will be of great value as we continue to build trust with the Indigenous community”.

The statement from TBPS was the focus of questions during the press conference.

Julian Falconer, counsel to Brad DeBungee and Rainy River First Nations says, “The findings of this OIPRD Report are absolutely unequivocal regarding the widespread nature of racism that is rampant at the TBPS. The report is unprecedented. I have never seen a report of an entire police force on this level with these findings.”

Jim Leonard, Former Chief of Rainy River First Nations says, “These findings have been a long time coming. The conclusion in the report that “Systemic racism exists in the Thunder Bay Police Service at an institutional level” is an indictment of the entire leadership. If they are going to get their house in order, they need to acknowledge their problems and become accountable. We wrote the Board, offering to work with them, and they refused. Perhaps now, they will want to work with us.”

Developing… more coverage to come.