THUNDER BAY –Darcy Fleury has officially been sworn in as the new chief of the Thunder Bay Police Service, taking the helm of an organization that’s been rocked repeatedly by controversy in recent years.
Political and community leaders from Thunder Bay and across the region expressed hope, and confidence, in a swearing-in ceremony on Monday that Fleury could lead the force in winning back the trust of the city’s Indigenous community, and that of rank-and-file officers who have expressed dismay over the force’s leadership in recent years.
Fleury comes to the role with over 36 years of policing experience, most recently as chief superintendent with the RCMP Central Alberta District based in Edmonton.
After spending roughly a month as chief-designate, shadowing acting chief Dan Taddeo, Fleury told over 200 people assembled for the swearing-in at the Delta waterfront hotel he’d already gained a sense of Thunder Bay’s community spirit through a whirlwind series of meetings.
“I have witnessed community organizations present and develop new approaches to take on many of the social, health, and justice issues faced by some of our people in Thunder Bay,” he said. “I’m committed to working with these agencies to continue to assist in finding solutions to homelessness, addictions, mental health and wellness problems some of our residents are facing.”
Malcolm Mercer, the administrator appointed by the province to oversee the Thunder Bay Police Services Board amid internal dysfunction, said Fleury’s swearing-in marked a hopeful milestone.
“I want to celebrate progress today,” he said. “We have a new chief of police selected by a new board and a new governance committee, with thoughtful engagement from First Nations and other leaders.”
“There is of course much work to be done by the chief, by the board, and by the service, all of which requires engagement with and support from the communities we serve. So I’m not here to declare success, but I am here to declare progress – and I’m proud of that progress.”
In her remarks, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said she was hopeful the force would rebuild trust with Indigenous people under Fleury’s leadership after a troubled history.
“In order for us to move forward, we must work together,” she said. “That is the message that I bring from the leadership and the citizens of Nishnawbe Aski Nation – We need to work together.”
She said after injustices, which have included botched investigations of Indigenous deaths, the community is looking for confidence the force is grappling with that history and enacting real change.
In his own comments, Fleury later appeared to answer that sentiment.
“I’ve been made aware we can never forget what’s happened in the past, and I agree,” he said. “I see community partners in the room who will never forget and who will be here to work together to create a brighter now, and a brighter future.”
“I also agree those past teachings lay the foundation for us to learn and to work together to create strong partnerships to make certain all people of Thunder Bay and Oliver-Paipoonge feel safe.”
Métis Nation of Ontario president Margaret Froh welcomed Fleury, pointing to the historic appointment of an Indigenous police chief.
“It is wonderful, I will say, to see an Indigenous police chief here in the city of Thunder Bay – and not just an Indigenous police chief, but a strong Métis man in this role who I know is going to bring a wonderful strong commitment.”
“There are many issues, there is much healing to do, there is much work to do. A lot of that work has begun already, and I would echo Anna Betty’s words: This is work that we have to do together… We are here to support you, Chief Fleury.”
Taddeo had warm words for Fleury, who he called the right man for a challenging assignment.
“The chief had to be a true leader who could walk the talk of leadership, which means internally, the membership had to completely accept him and his message, and externally, the public and our stakeholder groups had to believe him and the vision that he has.”
“After having had the opportunity to work with Darcy over the last four weeks, it wasn’t so much a selection – it was more that we were damn lucky he applied.”
Monday’s ceremony also marked a send-off for Taddeo, as he drew the curtain on a 35-year police career after delaying his planned retirement to serve as acting chief.
Mercer called that decision key to stabilizing what he acknowledged was a rocky ship.
“I shudder to think what would have been had Chief Taddeo left,” he said. “Rather than retire in 2022, which was his plan, he stepped up. He walked into, not away from, the line of fire.”
Fleury said he sees his new role as a chance to carry on a long family legacy of public service, which he said is “in our blood.”
That history includes a father who helped found the Manitoba Métis Federation, a mother who worked as a corrections officer, and a sister who serves as a director with Canada’s Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.
After a career that has already spanned decades, Fleury said he won't be eyeing the exits anytime soon, after taking on what’s likely to be his most difficult role yet.
“I’m always asked, ‘How long are you going to stay?’” he said. “My answer has always been, as long as you’re willing to have me.”