THUNDER BAY – The Ontario Civilian Police Commission has accepted the findings of an independent investigation, concluding that the board’s repeated failures to address the concerns of the Indigenous community constitute an emergency.
The determination was released Friday afternoon along with the report of Senator Murray Sinclair, who conducted a review of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board and recommended the appointment of an administrator to temporarily serve in place of the board.
“Given the long standing and troubling circumstances in Thunder Bay and the Board’s dismissive attitudes toward taking positive steps to address them, the Investigation determined that bold measures are required,” Sinclair wrote.
“Police services boards need to be cognizant and capable of carrying out all of their statutory responsibilities. The board has demonstrably shown that it cannot.”
The civilian police commission has issued an order to appoint Thomas Lockwood as the administrator for a one-year period on an emergency basis.
Celina Reiberger, who had been acclaimed as the board's first Indigenous chair earlier this week, said she accepts Sinclair's findings.
"I do not fault the board. They may have made some mistakes but I certainly know their heart was in the right place," Reitberger said. "Now we're going to have assistance in doing what we need to do. There's nothing to be ashamed of. We need help. We're getting help. There's going to be some money attached to it. I'm optimistic."
Sinclair recommended that no members of the previous board – which included former chair Jackie Dojack, Coun. Brian McKinnon, previous city councillor Joe Virdiramo and Don Smith – be brought back on the new board, with the exception of Reitberger.
"I think I am really qualified to do this job. I am all about reconciliation," said Reitberger, who helped found the restorative justice program in Thunder Bay and sits on the Indigenous peoples' court. "I see wonderful things happening but they're not widespread enough. I want to be instrumental in making this a better place for Indigenous people to come to live, to seek services."
Smith announced his resignation hours earlier on Friday, effective immediately.
Smith, who was first appointed to the board in 2013 and had previous background on the Shuniah police services board and as a director with the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, was the only one from the previous board who had been reappointed and had been acclaimed as vice chair earlier this week.
"A lot of these reports are politically motivated," Smith said. "It's not to say they're not needed and there wasn't some positive stuff that comes out of them. But at the end of the day, Thunder Bay has some issues. Until everybody comes together and sits down as one and there is no finger pointing – let's sit down and move forward – that's going to continue."
Reitberger said the spotlight of the nation is on Thunder Bay, though she added there are similar problems in other parts of the country such as Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.
"This isn't about blaming individuals," Reitberger said. "We have a system that's broken. Let's not beat each other up and point fingers and he said, she said. No more of that. We're going to move ahead."
Mayor Bill Mauro, through the city's communication department, said he won't respond to the report until Monday. Mauro was sworn in last week as a member of the Police Services Board, along with newly elected Westfort Coun. Kristen Oliver.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, did respond on Friday afternoon, and wasn't particularly happy with the process, though he did say he endorses the overall report.
“We endorse the recommendations and we agree with Senator Sinclair that bold measures are needed. We will support any earnest efforts by the City of Thunder Bay and the board, but will continue to hold them accountable for their actions, or lack thereof,” said Fiddler in a NAN-issued release.
“It is unacceptable however that an administrator was so hastily selected without any consultation from the Indigenous community and the Thunder Bay community in general. Policing in Thunder Bay presents unique challenges and realities and it is critical that the administrator is well versed in these issues and has an established rapport with Indigenous people.”
Other recommendations include the development of an anti-racism strategy and policy for the board and the police service, establish formal agreements with First Nations governance bodes to share information and raise cultural awareness and for the board to develop formal terms of reference for the police force’s Aboriginal liaison unit.
The new members can assume powers on the board once they have completed training that was spelled out in the report. Lockwood is to serve as the administrator until the members take their place, and then subsequently serve in an advisory role until the end of his mandate.
Reitberger said she is optimistic she can complete the recommended training within three months.