THUNDER BAY - Celina Reitberger, who has more than 20 years of experience in the legal community, will be chairing the Thunder Bay Police Services Board – the first Indigenous person to hold the position.
Reitberger was nominated as chair during the first meeting of the newly sworn in Thunder Bay Police Services Board on Monday. Member Don Smith accepted the nomination to serve as vice-chair and new members, Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro, and councilor Kristen Oliver, were also officially sworn in.
“From the board’s perspective, it will be nice to be able to see through their eyes, perhaps a new perspective, a different perspective,” said Thunder Bay Police Service chief, Sylvie Hauth. “It will be up to us, myself and the acting deputy, to bring them up to speed on a number of things and really at that point be able to discuss and look at things objectively moving forward.”
With a legal career spanning 20 years, including seven years as Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services executive director, Reitberger first joined the Police Board last December, becoming the first Indigenous woman to hold a voting role.
After being nominated chair, Reitberger said she was a little shell shocked, but is pleased to be taking on the role.
Mauro, who has a seat on the Police Board by virtue of being the mayor, said he is a fresh face and new eyes for the board. He added that while on the campaign trail, many people spoke with him and other councilors about crime in the city.
“What I would say, is you hear from time to time about statistics and whether or not Thunder Bay is experiencing a higher level of crime than it has in the past,” he said. “I don’t know what is accurate or what is not, but I know that people don’t feel as secure as they have in the past.”
In September, Hauth reached out to the province for assistance addressing the issue of increasing gang and drug activity in the city. While there has been no official response, Mauro said he hopes the Ford government will consider similar accommodations as was granted to the city of Toronto.
“I think that is something we can do and hopefully the province will see fit to provide us with extra financial capacity,” he said.
The swearing in of new members and the nomination of the chair comes just days before a report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director will release its findings of a systemic review into the policies surrounding the policing of Indigenous people in the city.
The Police Board is also under investigation by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, the findings of which are expected to be released this month.
“My expectation is it’s going to be very helpful,” Reitberger said. “I think Murray (Sinclair) is a straight shooter and not going to pull any punches, but I think it is going to be done in a good way so that we will feel that we have a road map. Once we have the road map, it’s going to be very easy for us to start. We’ve already started following up from his interim report.”
Reitberger added that she was not on the board when the reports were ordered and she will not take the findings personally, nor does she believe anyone else on the board should. But she does believe they will provide the board with the right direction and guidance.
“It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “But I think if people are coming from a good place, then good things can happen. We’ve had enough about he said, she said, people taking pot shots at one another. It’s time for healing and that’s what I’m all about. I’m optimistic.”
The swearing in of new Police Board members also follows a sudden death investigation of 17-year-old Indigenous youth, Braiden Jacob, and the investigation into the actions of a Thunder Bay Police Service officer who was recorded on video appearing to strike an Indigenous youth.
Reitberger said she would like to see the incident involving the officer and the Indigenous youth go through a restorative justice process to create healing on both sides.
She also expressed her condolences to the family of Jacob after his body was found in Chapples Park on the weekend.
“It’s a heartbreak for all involved and we just have to keep trying to do better,” she said.