As Thunder Bay Police Service faces allegations of toxic workplace culture, Northwestern Ontario Police Force Oversight Board faces increased scrutiny amid calls for the appointment of a director.

Some are calling for the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to be disbanded and replaced temporarily with an administrator — for the second time in a few years.

“They don’t do their acting job until these [human rights complaints] can be fleshed out on real evidence, factual findings and legal analysis, either through a settlement or in court,” human rights lawyer Chantelle Bryson told CBC News.

Bryson represents the nine serving and retired officers and civilians who filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, including council member Georjann Morriseau.

None of the allegations in the human rights tribunal records have been tested or proven in court.

Board chair Kristen Oliver did not respond to a CBC News interview request. But in an email, Oliver said “given that we are before the Human Rights Tribunal, counsel are confident that we do not want to compromise the integrity of the process, as such we are limited in what we can say publicly”.

Police Commission, members named in complaints

The police services board is named as a respondent in all nine human rights complaints, which allege that it “does nothing in response [to the complaints] to protect officers or the public. »

Four of the five board members – President and Councilor Oliver, Mayor Bill Mauro, Michael Power and Roydon Pelletier – as well as Board Secretary and former Thunder Bay City Clerk John Hannam – were named individual respondents in the human rights case of another board member, Morriseau. reprisals.

Retaliation are follow-up complaints filed after a complainant has been retaliated against or threatened in response to their initial complaint.

The retaliation alleges that after Morriseau filed his human rights complaint in October, commission members and Hannam sought to remove Morriseau from the police services board by requesting an investigation by the Civil Commission of Ontario police.

The commission would not say whether it ever opened an investigation into Morriseau.

But a January 22 letter from Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones confirmed that she had requested a separate civilian police investigation into the chief, deputy chief and administration of the Thunder Bay police force. as a result of allegations included in human rights complaints. Bryson shared this letter with CBC News.

Nearly three weeks later, the civilian police commission announced that it would in fact conduct an investigation, focusing on allegations of “gross misconduct” by the chief, deputy chief and police attorney.

This is the second inquiry into the police department by the same commission in five years.

Chantelle Bryson, a human rights lawyer based in Thunder Bay, Ont., is representing 12 officers and civilians who have filed or will file human rights complaints against the Thunder Bay Police Department. (Submitted by Chantelle Bryson)

Bryson also called for the police oversight board to be dissolved and called for the appointment of an independent administrator to serve in its place.

In a Feb. 9 letter to Jones that was shared with CBC News, Bryson asked that the provincial solicitor general provide an action plan to protect her clients, who she says continue to experience “extreme and cruel stress, and some suffer direct reprisals”. while on mental health leave or while attempting to return to work. »

Bryson said she would continue to pursue legal action to try to protect her clients and “take the advice away”, and questioned whether the civilian police commission even had staff or investigators. sufficient to carry out the requested investigation.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission did not respond to questions about its staffing levels.

Calls to an external administrator

It’s a nagging problem that two experts in police governance say should be solved by appointing an outside administrator.

Alok Mukherjee is Past Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Past Chair of the Ontario and Canadian Association of Police Boards, and Former Acting Chief Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“The [Thunder Bay police oversight] the board clearly doesn’t seem able to mind its own business,” Mukherjee said in an interview with CBC News.

He said he hopes the civilian oversight commission will act quickly and ask the council to step down for the second time in four years and appoint an administrator to act in its place.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board from 2005 to 2015, says he hopes the Ontario Civilian Commission on Policing will step in to temporarily appoint an administrator to oversee the Thunder Bay police force. (Provided by Alok Mukherjee)

“But simply appointing an administrator, without the resources and mandate to implement Sinclair’s report, will not be enough,” Mukherjee added.

He was referring to retired Senator Murray Sinclair’s 2018 Broken Trust report which was commissioned by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Policing the last time Thunder Bay police faced allegations of misconduct.

The report found that “the council has failed to recognize or address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.

“Furthermore, the council’s failure to act on these issues in the face of overwhelming documentary and media exposure is indicative of willful blindness,” said the report, which set out 32 recommendations to address systemic discrimination.

The report also led to the temporary dissolution of the Supervisory Board and the controversial one-year appointment of Administrator Tom Lockwood.

Given that there is a call for another investigation by the Ontario Civilian Commission of Police less than two years after Lockwood’s departure, Mukherjee wondered if any real organizational or functional change had taken place.

Disassembly advice is not enough, according to an expert

Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, also said the oversight board “should be dismantled for the second time with an administrator taking control of the situation.” But he stressed that this alone would not solve police governance problems in Thunder Bay.

He acknowledged the specific issues of anti-Indigenous discrimination in the city, but said that across Canada, police governance has become more complex.

“The font changes dramatically about every 20 to 25 years, [so] you need to review police governance legislation and make sure the appointment processes and the safety valves that exist in police boards are the right ones,” Kempa said in an interview with CBC News.

Michael Kempa, association professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, says Canada is in a generational moment when police oversight needs to be revamped. The situation in Thunder Bay points to the need for change, he said. (Steve Fischer/CBC)

“We’re definitely at that time.”

Police department budgets are in crisis and social service agencies are under pressure to respond to some calls for community safety, particularly in the area of ​​mental health, Kempa said.

“You’re going to need very active, very competent and very confident policing oversight bodies to manage all of this change and not let political considerations constantly interfere.”

Going forward, it cannot just be new bodies occupying the same seats, Kempa said, adding that there must be a new framework to guide oversight bodies in their work to reinvent policing for the next generation.