Thunder Bay Police Service faces skepticism about promises of reform after charges against ex-chief | CBC News

As senior leaders of the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and its oversight board say they are committed to accountability and rebuilding trust with the community, Indigenous leaders in the region say that words are no longer enough and they need to see action.  

“Trust in the police is not there,” Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa said Monday, days after former TBPS Chief Sylvie Hauth was charged by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). His comments also followed a media conference from TBPS Chief Darcy Fleury and Thunder Bay Police Service Board Chair Karen Machado, where Machado called the charges “deeply disturbing.” 

“We need to be able to address those issues, and I think we need to be able to implement some of the recommendations that came out of a number of reports,” Mamakwa said.

Both Machado and Fleury acknowledged there has been an erosion of trust within the northwestern Ontario community and said they understand the recent charges against Hauth and other current and former members of the service have cast doubt on the police force. 

Hauth is facing four charges: obstruction of a public officer or peace officer, breach of trust by a public officer, and two counts of obstruction of justice. She was formally charged on Friday after turning herself in to an OPP detachment in Nepean.

Those charges come following an investigation that began in late 2021, when the Ministry of the Attorney General requested the OPP investigate allegations of misconduct by members of the TBPS, according to provincial police. That review led to an investigation by the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) that is ongoing.

Hauth’s hiring as full-time chief in 2018 came after an investigation that found evidence of systemic racism within the force. 

In a statement, Hauth’s lawyer said she was looking forward to defending herself in court and is “confident she will prevail.” 

Hauth was released from custody and is due in Thunder Bay court on May 7.

WATCH | Thunder Bay police officials speak about rebuilding trust after ex-chief charged: 

Thunder Bay Police Service chief, oversight board respond after ex-chief charged by OPP

Thunder Bay Police Service Chief Darcy Fleury speaks about how the police service is trying to rebuild trust in the northwestern Ontario community, as three current or former members of the service, including the former chief, face criminal charges. 

Meanwhile, former Thunder Bay police lawyer Holly Walbourne is facing charges of breach of trust and obstruction, while Staff Sgt. Michael Dimini has been charged with assault, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice.

Sherry Abotossaway, a criminal defence lawyer in Thunder Bay, and professor at Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, said it’s important for Fluery to reach out directly to Indigenous people. 

“Be a face that’s out there speaking to people and building that trust, because it’s not going to come anytime soon,” she said, noting she hoped the recently laid charges would help. “But I don’t know just because the back track record hasn’t been so good.”

Jamie Cunningham, a former civilian member of the TBPS who was at Monday’s media conference said her takeaway was that very little has changed.

“There’s still a lot of deflection, still a lot of unanswered questions and an inability to admit wrongdoing and to build relationships with the people who have been harmed,” she said. “Perhaps not physically, but certainly mentally and emotionally over these last three years.”

A woman with glasses poses for a photo.
Jamie Cunningham, a former civilian member of the TBPS, says she wants to see the service work to repair relationships in the community. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Cunningham said she wants to see TBPS issue an apology to the people who gave evidence to the OPP during it’s investigation, and an acknowledgement of “the wrong and and saying: ‘Yes, we believe you, yes, we hear you, and we’re willing to work with you to repair those relationships.'”

In a joint statement released Monday, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum echoed other statements about a loss of trust in the TBPS.

“For years we have expressed serious concerns with the Thunder Bay Police Service and its ability to conduct competent death investigations, even to the point where we had to make a call for the disbandment of the Service,” the statement read.

A woman speaks at a podium.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said in a joint-statement with Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler that NAN has lost trust in the Thunder Bay Police Service. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

“Those calls have been ignored, and we are faced with a situation where families who have lost loved ones are left with no recourse because they do not trust the work of the TBPS,” the statement said. 

“There is absolutely no trust whatsoever in the TBPS or its ability to conduct competent investigations into the deaths of Indigenous Peoples.”

Fiddler and Achneepineskum noted they were “disappointed” with the response from Fleury and the police services board, because they said it puts “the onus on the community to identify and solve systemic issues while failing to acknowledge the trauma experienced by our members and communities who have lost their loved ones without answers or credible investigations.”

“The issues plaguing the TBPS, and its Board are not resigned to history, or the result of a few bad apples. They stem from deep, systemic issues that are ongoing and have yet to be addressed.”

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