THUNDER BAY - The administrator who has temporarily taken over the duties of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board anticipates voting power will return to the board members as early as February next year after the completion of a comprehensive training course.
“I want to hand the reigns over to Celina (Reitberger) as soon as I can,” said Thomas Lockwood, who has been appointed the administrator of the Police Services Board.
Senator Murray Sinclair’s report released last week by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission found the board repeatedly failed to address concerns of the Indigenous community.
The report came on the heels of Gerry McNeilly’s findings of systemic racism at an institutional level in the Thunder Bay Police Service.
Sinclair recommended an administrator temporarily take over the voting duties of the Police Services Board and on Tuesday, the first meeting was held with Lockwood at the helm.
Reading from a statement before the start of the meeting, Lockwood said the board acknowledges “unequivocally that systemic racism exists both in the Service and the Board” and that the board has “failed the Indigenous community.”
But Lockwood called this a turning point and while a trust with the community has been broken and will take time to repair, there is a commitment to move forward.
“You have to admit that the past has occurred and you have to move forward and say we are going to move forward, this is what we are going to do, and this is how we are going to do it,” he said. “Once you’ve broken trust, you don’t get it back very easily. It’s a long process and we are starting that journey now and I think it’s a very exciting journey.”
A major component of moving forward will include extensive training regarding cultural awareness with respect to the Indigenous community, as well as policies, and communications.
The training will be administered by Police Services Board chair, Celina Reitberger, and Andrew Graham a professor in the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University and Fred Kaustinen, executive director of the Ontario Association of Police Services Board.
The training is expected to take three days and will take place in February. Currently, there are two vacancies on the board, but Lockwood said the training will commence if those two spots are filled or not.
“If we have five board members, we will all take the training,” he said. “If there are not new board members, it’s important to get this board functioning, so those of us that are here will take the training. When new members are appointed, they will have to take the training and cannot vote until they’ve had the training. Under the order, I have to certify that they have taken the training.”
What will be known as the ‘Thunder Bay Training Course,’ Lockwood believes it can set the example for other police service boards across the province and cast the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in a new light.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Reitberger said. “I’ve been at this for a year but I still have a lot to learn. I’m excited Thunder Bay will be leading the way. We are really going to be pioneers in this much needed training.”
Lockwood added that he would like to see other changes to how the Police Board operates, including moving the meeting location outside of the Thunder Bay Police Service Balmoral Station, as members of the public reported feeling uncomfortable attending meetings at the station.
He would also like to see more people in the public getting involved, attending meetings, and he would like to look into the possibility of hosting a webcast of all Police Service Board meetings.
“We want people to come here, sit in the audience,” he said. “We may even start having audience participation. We are trying to get up the comfort level of people coming to our meetings.”
Police Association comments
Last week, the Thunder Bay Police Association issued a response to the findings of the OIPRD and OCPC reports, stating that it did not accept the accusations that its members are racist.
Reitberger said she respectively believes the Police Association misinterpreted the findings, which is not calling any one officer or member racist, but rather acknowledging that systemic racism exists in the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“We have a service that we are proud of,” she said. “I think what we need to do is I would like to send a message to the force that we are behind them. We’ve taken a blow, but we are all in this together. The more we can collaborate and cooperate, the faster and easier it’s going to be to move forward.”
Lockwood added that the Police Association’s comments would have no impact at all on the board or how it moves forward.
“We unequivocally acknowledge there is systemic racism,” he said. “We hope to work together with the police association and we are hopeful the chief will work together with the association because they are a very important component of policing in this community.”
Public acknowledgement and apology
Next month, the Thunder Bay Police Service Board will participate in a community circle to publically acknowledge and apologize for failing the Indigenous community.
Reitberger said it will be a crucial step in starting the journey of reestablishing trust with Indigenous people.
“That’s going to be the first thing we do in public and I think everyone is waiting to see how that is going to play out,” she said. “We want to do it respectfully, we want to invite the community, including the Indigenous community, we will have elders there, ceremony, and I think it is something people are going to appreciate. Just saying it into a microphone at this point in time is not really powerful enough. We feel we need a powerful method.”
When asked if she believes the Indigenous community will accept the acknowledgement and apology, Reitberger said she does.
“We are all about forgiveness,” she said.
Thunder Bay Police Service chief, Sylvie Hauth, said in a statement issued before the Police Board meeting that she will be consulting with senior administration and members of the Police Service in early January regarding the 44 recommendations in the OIPRD report to formulate an action plan.
“I will also be working closely with the Police Services Board administrator to ensure that the TBPS moves forward to meet the community’s expectations,” she said. “An initial report on the progress to date will be provided at the January Police Services Board meeting.”