THUNDER BAY - Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins is calling on Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro to step down from the Thunder Bay Police Services Board and be replaced by further Indigenous representation.
“I have come to the conclusion that in light of the persistent failure by the mayor of Thunder Bay to acknowledge, by his actions and words, the seriousness of systemic racism that exists, there is an inherent conflict of interest in the Mayor’s seat on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board,” Collins said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.
Last week, Mauro hosted a town hall meeting, during which he said it “drives me crazy to listen to and fight back against the perception of our community that is being created on the national stage,” and he referenced recent reports by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
“They intensified, in a laser-like way, the focus by national media on the city of Thunder Bay in my opinion very unfairly,” Mauro said at the town hall. “I've been criticized by a lot of people for fighting back against the narrative because people feel I'm not acknowledging the problem.”
Collins said in an interview with Tbnewswatch Thursday afternoon that the issues at hand need to be recognized.
"If you are not going to recognize them then we are not going to be able to repair them," he said. "I think sitting at the police board and not recognizing the issues and the recommendations going forward is not a good way to think."
"He has a job to do and that job is to rectify the problems and deal with them head on and not shove them under the rug and that is what he’s trying to do."
Mauro said on Thursday after receiving the statement from Collins that he believes some people feel his remarks are dismissive of the challenges expressed in the OIRPD and OCPC reports.
"I think that we all completely in this community understand that racism exists here," Mauro said. "That has never been the question. I think what people are trying to communicate is that sometimes they are not hearing that message from me in a clear enough way."
Mauro added the statement released by Collins caught him off guard but he plans to reach out the Chief to get a better understanding of the genesis of the letter.
"I have a sense of it, but I am not going to make too much more of a comment until I have a chance to talk to the Chief," he said.
Thunder Bay Police Service chair, Celina Reitberger, said Mauro needs to tread carefully and that it's important to distinguish between what is being said as mayor and as a member of the Police Services Board.
“Further, in reference to recent events, it is not sufficient for the mayor to simply clarify which ‘hat’ he has on, a Mayor’s hat or police service board hat,” Collins said.
Collins also said in the statement released on Thursday that he has no confidence or reassurance as a leader that the Thunder Bay Police Services Board will serve the interest of Indigenous people. However, when asked about that statement Thursday afternoon, he provided some clarification.
"My finger is not pointing at the Police Services Board," he said. "I think they are doing really good work and will continue to do that. I think the negative feedback Bill is putting out there right now is very detrimental to their work."
As to whether Collins is hopeful Mauro will actually step aside, he said he's torn.
"I’m kind of hopeful and I’m kind of not," he said. "I hope Bill will just recognize the issues at hand and start moving in the right direction and start dealing with the recommendations as they come along. I think there have been some great strides to date. But this negative feedback that he’s been putting out in the media is not going to help the process or help the direction or help deal with the issues we have."