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Indigenous voice officially joins police board

Former Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services executive director Celina Reitberger officially joined the Thunder Bay Police Services Board on Tuesday.
Celina Reitberger
Celina Reitberger officially joined the Thunder Bay Polcie Services Board on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – Celina Reitberger first thought about becoming a member of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board three years ago.

At the time the executive director of Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services, Reitberger was told it probably wouldn’t be a good fit. But after retiring in June, with a vacancy on the board still open, she decided to apply.

After what Reitberger described as a “rigorous process,” the member of Fort William First Nation was officially appointed to the board by the province and took the oath of affirmation at Tuesday morning’s meeting.

“If you want to affect change, I think you can do it better from the inside than being on the outside looking in,” Reitberger said.

“What I hope to accomplish is building bridges. I’m hoping that there can be opportunities for training for cultural sensitivity, both for the board and it might spill over to the police. My passion has been access to justice and helping people with their rights.”

The addition of Reitberger to the board fills a seat that has sat vacant for nearly a year after the term of former member Allan Laakkonen expired.

In the meantime, Serenity Perry had joined the board as an Indigenous resource person in a non-voting role. Adding an Indigenous voice to the police services board was included as a recommendation produced during the Seven Youth Inquest.

Reitberger, who had a 20-year legal career including the seven-year stint as Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services’s executive director, said she has experience of Indigenous peoples’ dealings with the Thunder Bay Police Service and appreciates the complexity of policing.

“I see people who have had interfacing with policing and it has not been good for them but the challenges police face with the gangs, drugs and situations people are faced with is incredible,” Reitberger said.

“I think we need to acknowledge they have an incredible job to do and say how we can help them do it better, by giving them an understanding of the people they’re dealing with.”

Reitberger was also appointed by federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to the judicial advisory committee for Northern and Eastern Ontario earlier this year. 

Board chair Jackie Dojack said she welcomed the appointment of Reiberger, noting the new member demonstrated her value during her first meeting.

“She brings a wealth of experience with her,” Dojack said. “She is really going to bring that Indigenous perspective to us as an Indigenous person but also as somebody who has worked for Indigenous organizations and can really continuously bring that Indigenous perspective to the work we do as a board.”

Dojack will remain the board chair and Brian McKinnon will remain as vice chair, as both were acclaimed to continue in their respective capacities for 2018.

About the Author: Matt Vis

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