Ontario’s solicitor general requests investigation into Thunder Bay police leadership

Ontario’s solicitor general has requested an external investigation of Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) leadership after several human rights complaints were filed by officers and a member of its oversight board.

A spokesperson confirmed Sylvia Jones has asked the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to investigate police Chief Sylvie Hauth and Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, along with the administration of the police service.

Last week, police board member Georjann Morriseau called for new leadership of the force and requested that a third party take oversight.

Just a few days earlier, Morriseau released a letter on social media claiming the police service “is on the brink of collapse at the hands of its board, its leadership and its administration.”

Morriseau, former chief of the Ojibway First Nation of Fort William, in October filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, naming the board, the police service and Hauth. The complaint alleges that during Morriseau’s time as a board member, she has faced discrimination and harassment because she’s Indigenous.

In a statement released Thursday, the board said it “is committed to ensuring that adequate and effective policing is provided to the community.”

Its earlier statement said “the board (with the exception of member Morriseau) is united, working well and far from ‘collapse.'”

Morriseau’s lawyer hopes for changes

Chantelle Bryson is a lawyer in Thunder Bay who is representing Morriseau and 10 clients who have or will be filing human rights complaints against police leadership or the board.

Bryson said she had contacted Jones in December, requesting an outside investigation.

“We’re very pleased that the solicitor general is acknowledging the serious issues of public concern going on here in the workplace, the safety of officers and civilians, and of course, the public’s safety by having a fully performing police service,” Bryson told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

She said she hopes the investigation will lead to changes, which could include an appointed administrator to replace the board or interim leadership of the force. 

In a Tuesday afternoon statement, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board said it welcomed the involvement of the OCPC, and it had forwarded the commission “several matters for investigation and action,” some of them dating back more than a year.

Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro, also a member of the police board, spoke with Jones on Monday, the statement added.

In a statement issued by the police chief on Tuesday, she said she welcomed the call for the OCPC to conduct a thorough investigation. A police spokesperson declined interview requests for Hauth and Hughes.

Hauth was appointed as permanent chief of the police force in November 2018, following two stints as acting chief. The announcement of her hiring came just over a month before the civilian police commission released a report into its investigation of the former board, ordering its disbandment.

Officers dissatisfied with leadership, association head says

Over the weekend, Thunder Bay Police Association president Colin Woods said he supported calls for an independent investigation.

Woods, in a statement, said the association will also file a formal complaint with the civilian police commission sometime this week, asking them to look into concerns raised by Thunder Bay officers.

“My members feel that we don’t have good leadership at the police service. My members don’t feel that they’re appreciated,” Woods told CBC News on Tuesday.

“There’s this feeling in our station where [we have to] toe the line, be quiet, not voice our opinions, not ask questions, because we kind of get singled out or there’s fear or reprisal for speaking up.”

Woods said they’ve brought these issues up to the police board and to senior leadership multiple times, but they haven’t seen any action or attempt to make change.

Last fall, the police associated released the results of an internal survey that showed low morale among officers and found a perception that senior management was not encouraging openness and transparency.

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