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Morriseau questions police board's handling of human rights complaint

Board members named in complaint must appoint independent administrator to handle issue, Morriseau’s lawyer argues.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay Police Services Board member Georjann Morriseau says fellow board members named in her human rights complaints against police leadership must remove themselves from decision-making on the issue.

Instead, an independent administrator should be appointed to direct the board’s handling of the complaints, said Chantelle Bryson, a Thunder Bay lawyer who represents Morriseau in two applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Morriseau has named all members of the board in one HRTO complaint, seeking damages.

“We’ve been going through this repeatedly with the board since filing her complaints, that they’re in conflict – they’re personally named respondents with named damages amounts, they have financial interests in these matters,” Bryson said.

The board “does not agree” members are in conflict, said secretary John Hannam, who also flatly denied claims by Bryson that the board has met to discuss the complaint without Morriseau's knowledge.

It’s the latest salvo in an internal crisis that has seen Ontario’s Solicitor General call for an independent investigation of police leadership including chief Sylvie Hauth, after appeals from both Morriseau and the Thunder Bay Police Association, which represents rank and file officers.

Bryson has filed nine applications with the HRTO alleging discrimination by police leadership, seven of which are on behalf of current and former police officers. She says she’s been approached by many more, as well as civilian staff.

Morriseau’s original complaint alleged that an investigation launched against her by police chief Sylvie Hauth constituted harassment. It also alleged that remarks made to her by police board chair Kristen Oliver and secretary John Hannam constituted racial discrimination.

Morriseau believes the TBPS investigation of her, which she says included production orders for her cell phone records, is part of a larger campaign of reprisals against police officers who have spoken out against misconduct.

The investigation came about after an officer approached Morriseau with concerns about the conduct of a superior officer, she alleges in the HRTO complaint.

Hannam declined to comment on the board’s response to the request that an administrator be appointed to handle Morriseau’s complaint.

However, he rejected the notion board members have a conflict on the issue. None have so far declared a conflict, he confirmed.

In a Jan. 25 email reviewed by TBNewswatch, Hannam advised Morriseau to consider whether or not she would declare a conflict of interest as the board prepared to discuss plans “to retain legal counsel, and discuss strategy, in response to the HRTO applications.”

Hannam emphasized he had only recommended Morriseau consider the potential conflict, and had not advised her to declare a conflict.

Asked if he had sent similar messages to board members named as respondents in the same complaint, from whom Morriseau has sought financial damages, Hannam said the situation was not the same.

“I would say that the board does not agree with Ms. Bryson’s views in this matter,” he said. “The board members do not find themselves in conflict. The distinction I guess is that it is member Morriseau that has taken action against the other board members (and others); actions in which she seeks monetary redress for her allegations. And so the potential for her to be conflicted rests there.”

To Bryson, it’s a cut-and-dried case of a conflict for all board members, as defined under Ontario’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

“This board, as personally named respondents, cannot be engaged in… the hiring or instructing of legal counsel, either for themselves or for the board,” Bryson said. “An independent body needs to come in and deal with member Morriseau’s complaints.”

Bryson has written Solicitor General Sylvia Jones to ask that she direct the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to appoint an administrator, for the limited purpose of handling Morriseau’s complaint.

In 2018, the OCPC appointed an administrator to act in place of the board for a year, removing all but one of its members, following an investigation led by Murray Sinclair that found the board had failed to exercise proper oversight.

The Solicitor General's office has not yet responded to a request for comment from TBNewswatch.

Morriseau has reason to believe the board and police leadership have strategized about their response to her complaint without her knowledge and outside of duly constituted meetings, Bryson said.

“Part of member Morriseau’s reprisal complaint to the human rights tribunal… is that they were holding secret meetings from December 2020 forward, behind her back,” Bryson said.

“We have a witness who told member Morriseau there had been many board meetings in her absence, since December 2020. That is something that will be tested in adjudication before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.”

It’s an allegation firmly denied by Hannam.

“I can be very clear,” he said. “At no time has the board met without informing and inviting Ms. Morriseau to attend.”

Morriseau's treatment is part of a larger pattern of quashing, rather than addressing, complaints of misconduct in the force, Bryson said.

“It’s been suggested to member Morriseau since she first raised her complaint to the board last February that she should resign,” she said. “Why should the victim of harassment and discrimination, as she’s alleged, resign? There’s no basis for that."

A statement from board chair Oliver earlier this month that the board was united “with the exception of member Morriseau” rankled Bryson.

“They say they’re aligned, everything’s good except for member Morriseau,” she said. “We haven’t had any investigation of these complaints… there’s been no investigation and no adjudication. So we find it extraordinary for the board to be coming out and supporting the leadership of the service… in face of multiple serious allegations of racial discrimination, mental health discrimination, as well as serious allegations of criminal investigations and cover-up.”

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