By Maan Alhmidi
THE CANADIAN PRESS
An independent expert panel is calling for systemic change at the Thunder Bay Police Service and the board overseeing it, saying an anti-racism policy, a trauma-informed approach to policing and a formal forum for consultation with First Nations should all be urgently implemented.
The recommendations from the panel appointed to assess the culture of the force and its board came Thursday as it found community members and Indigenous leaders had “widespread dissatisfaction and a profound lack of trust” in the police service.
“The time for small fixes, tinkering and modest change has long passed,” the panel wrote in its final report. “Bold transformative action is well overdue.”
The police force in the northern Ontario city has been the subject of several reviews, including earlier reports that found evidence of systemic racism in how it handles cases involving Indigenous people.
The expert panel was appointed by the Thunder Bay police board last year and held consultations with more than 100 organizations, local residents, Indigenous leaders and current and former members of the force.
Urgent measures are needed to address systemic racism in the police force, the panel said, including developing and implementing a comprehensive human rights, anti-racism and inclusion policy.
Police should also take a trauma-informed approach to community interactions and establish a formal way to regularly consult Indigenous leaders in the region, it said.
“The (police) chief needs to pay attention to developing formal arrangements with First Nations and other police services (to
establish) a collaborative model of policing,” panel chair Alok Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee, a former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said the governance committee of the Thunder Bay police board should develop a realistic timeline to implement the expert panel’s proposals along with other calls for action made by several coroner’s inquests and other reviews.
The board committee should also develop an outcomes-based public reporting mechanism on its progress, he said.
“Vague processes are not helpful,” he said. “For implementing the kind of proposals we have made, you need to identify concrete outcomes.”
The panel’s final report came after an interim report in September called for more representation in top positions of the Thunder Bay Police Service and asked the board to help achieve policing reforms.
That report said urgent measures were needed in the areas of chief selection, police board appointments and labour relations, and suggested the next police chief should be Indigenous or a person of colour with police leadership experience.
Senior RCMP officer Darcy Fleury, a member of the Red River Metis, was appointed last month as the city’s police chief after the force’s former chief resigned in January while under suspension.
In February, two Indigenous women were sworn in as members of the police services board. That came after the majority of the board’s members resigned last year following the Ontario Civilian Police Commission’s decision to appoint an outside administrator to oversee the board.
Mukherjee said the new Indigenous board members were positive developments.
The panel’s final report also called for the police force and board to adopt a policy that focuses on de-escalation and problem-solving, especially in dealing with Indigenous people and members of other vulnerable communities.
The report also called on the police chief to work with local partners, including the Fort William First Nation, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the city and the coroner office to establish a forensic pathology unit in Thunder Bay.
Mukherjee said labour relations issues were not addressed in the final report since the interim report identified them as an area in need of improvement. The panel had called for a commitment to trauma-informed labour relations and training for all senior officers and managers.
“There is work to be done in respect of the area of labour relations and human resources management,” he said.
The expert panel also said a “regional and collaborative approach” to policing was needed for Thunder Bay and its vast surrounding areas that would see collaboration between city police, the RCMP, provincial police and Indigenous police forces.
“Working together, and in partnership with public and community based service providers, they can address the legacy of past injustice,” it said, “and make space for restorative justice, compassion, understanding, and concrete acts of restitution.”
Mukherjee said both the federal and provincial governments should support Thunder Bay and its policing partners to create a regional policing model.
“Thunder Bay policing needs more resources,” he said. “We have advocated in the report for other orders of government to come to the table and support the possibility of real change in policing in Thunder Bay.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.