THUNDER BAY – Georjann Morriseau has announced she’s taking a brief leave of absence from the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, as she raised questions about the direction of an independent investigation into police leadership.
The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) confirmed on Feb. 11 it would investigate allegations of misconduct by Thunder Bay Police Service chief Sylvie Hauth, now-suspended deputy chief Ryan Hughes, and legal counsel Holly Walbourne, and review the administration of the service and its relationship to the police services board.
Now Morriseau’s lawyer, Chantelle Bryson, says she’s concerned over indications the OCPC is pursuing allegations against her client instead.
The OCPC has requested an interview with Morriseau as part of its probe, but refused to first answer whether she is a subject of investigation, according to Bryson.
“We have nothing to hide,” she said. “If she is [under investigation], that’s fine – just tell us what the allegations are.”
Morriseau may not agree to an interview with the OCPC until she receives an answer, Bryson indicated, something she said will be evaluated while Morriseau is on leave through the end of April.
In a statement, Morriseau cited family needs and the stress of “retaliatory actions” by the police services board as reasons for the leave.
Bryson also questioned why the OCPC hasn’t asked to speak with any of the 10 police officers, former officers, and civilian staff she represents who have filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against police leadership.
Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones cited those HRTO applications in a letter confirming she had requested an OCPC investigation.
“That leads to [the question of], well, what are they investigating?” Bryson said.
A spokesperson for Tribunals Ontario, which oversees the OCPC, said it could not comment on specifics of the investigation as it's ongoing.
Hauth, Hughes, and Walbourne were named in terms of reference for the investigation released by the OCPC on Feb. 11.
Bryson argued her client deserves the same treatment before speaking with the commission.
“We pointed out that basic principles of procedural fairness and natural justice would require them to disclose this information that they had provided to the chief, deputy chief, and Holly Walbourne in the terms of reference and that the failure to be transparent with member Morriseau would also constitute discrimination,” Bryson said.
The terms of reference specify the OCPC may “add and/or amend issues under investigation and named parties to the investigation” at any time.
In her original HRTO application, Morriseau alleged Hauth improperly targeted her with a police investigation that included a production order on her cell phone records. She alleges that investigation was ordered after she relayed concerns over misconduct by an officer within the force.
She also alleged remarks made to her by police board chair Kristen Oliver and secretary John Hannam constituted racial discrimination.
Morriseau has since lodged two further HRTO complaints against members of the police services board for alleged reprisals, charging board members have improperly attempted to remove her from the board.
Bryson has filed to defer the HRTO applications until the OCPC investigation, and a separate investigation launched by the OPP, are concluded.
The OPP has disclosed few details of its investigation, saying only that it will examine allegations against members of the Thunder Bay Police Service, and that it came in response to a request by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The OPP has interviewed numerous officers who filed complaints against police leadership, including hours of detailed interviews with Morriseau, said Bryson.
She said the OPP confirmed Morriseau was not a subject of its investigation, and extended victim and security services after interviewing her, but declined to comment on the extent of security provided.
Bryson charges Morriseau’s treatment is an example of a culture of reprisal at TBPS against those who speak out.
The Thunder Bay Police Association has supported calls to investigate police leadership, with president Colin Woods similarly contending officers “are worried about who [police leadership] are coming after next, who are they going to be disciplining next.”
Morriseau was not able to meet with OCPC investigator Ian Scott as planned last week after falling ill with COVID-19, Bryson said.
Now, she said she’s awaiting a response from the commission before agreeing to an interview. Morriseau has also asked Scott to see a copy of the TBPS filing for a production order on her cell phone, with no response, according to Bryson.
A spokesperson for the Thunder Bay Police Services Board said chair Kristen Oliver wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, but pointed to a previous statement indicating the board “remain[s] open to working with Member Morriseau collaboratively to focus on the important work of transforming the police service and rebuilding trust with the community.”
Note: This story has been updated with comment from Tribunals Ontario.