‘Everybody needs to go’: First Nations member of Thunder Bay police board calls for sweeping changes

It’s been a tumultuous few years for the Thunder Bay police service and the board meant to oversee its operations.

Georjann Morriseau knew that when she was asked to serve on the police services board.

Morriseau, a former chief of Fort William First Nation just outside Thunder Bay, believed she could bring the perspective of an Indigenous woman and a leader to a board that had recently been investigated by Ontario Civilian Police Commission and disbanded.

In his final report for the OCPC, former justice Murray Sinclair found the board had “failed to recognize and address the clear and indisputable pattern of violence and systemic racism against Indigenous people in Thunder Bay.”

Sinclair’s report laid out 32 recommendations to “address the systemic discrimination that exists in policing of Indigenous peoples in Thunder Bay.

Morriseau was not under the impression she was going to change the world but wanted to help tackle the issues and implement those recommendations.

Instead, she calls her time on the board “disheartening” and “appalling.”

Morriseau says shortly after becoming chair of the police board, she began seeing things she was “not comfortable with”, including rumours of alleged police leaks to the operator of a controversial Facebook page.

According to a press release from Morriseau’s legal counsel, Morriseau brought the rumour to the attention of the deputy chief of police and took part in numerous interviews about the matter, conducted by senior Thunder Bay police officials and the police service’s legal counsel.

Shortly after, Morriseau was replaced as board chair in an election she says was held one month early, “without explanation.”

Morriseau says she was shocked to find out later that she had been the subject of an internal Thunder Bay police investigation and that her cell phone records had been sought through “a production order on her personal cell phone.”

“I was actively being harassed, targeted. Every board meeting was just a nightmare,” says Morriseau on the latest episode of Face to Face. “I was being accused of lying, I was being accused of not understanding and being incompetent.

“I had comments made to me by the secretary and even the current board chair, that was at time referencing the fact that I’m First Nations from the reserve and that things are done differently out there.”

In October of 2021, Morriseau filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The complaint says Morriseau has “experienced mental distress and continuous unjustified attacks on her professional reputation” by senior members of the Thunder Bay police service and members of the police services board.

The complaint calls for the removal of the chief of police, the deputy chief of police, and the service’s legal counsel. It also calls for the removal of then board chair and city councillor Kristen Oliver and police board secretary, John Hannam, a former clerk with the City of Thunder Bay.

“I don’t think the current make up of this board and the existing leadership, which means the chief of police on the administrative side, and her lawyer, that across the map needs to be changed,” says Morriseau.

She says “everybody needs to go” before the community can have faith in its police service and board.

In April, the majority of the board did resign, including chair Kristen Oliver.

The resignations came after the OCPC put in place an administrator to oversee the board. In the order appointing an administrator, OCPC executive chair, Sean Weir wrote, “I am of the opinion that an emergency exists in the TB Board oversight of the TB Police Service.”

In an interview with APTN News, Oliver says she didn’t see the board as being in crisis.

“I did not see us in an emergency, crisis by any stretch of the imagination,” says Oliver.

On May 2, Thunder Bay city council appointed councillor Shelby Ch’ng to the board. Ch’ng joins Mayor Bill Mauro and Morriseau as the only remaining members of the board.

“What I was seeing and what I continue to see, is that in our capacity as a board and even now at the OCPC and provincial level, we are failing miserably because again we have some serious issues,” says Morriseau.

“The system is not just broken, the organization, the operations, the people are broken and these are the very people that we expect to go out and do their jobs effectively by keeping the community safe, including our Indigenous people,” says Morriseau.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has also confirmed that a criminal investigation is underway into members of the Thunder Bay police service.

Morriseau has expressed concerns for her personal safety and she and her legal counsel have both reported “suspicious activities at their residences.”

“When you start to push and push the envelope more and more and you start to see the strains of accountability, you never know how people are going to react,” she says. “And, if individuals were willing within their leadership capacity to leverage that and seek production orders on my phone and now moving ahead, you know have a criminal investigation currently taking place by the OPP, you have an OCPC investigation being conducted, the stakes are high.

“I’ve seen how civilians and officers are treated and targeted. I’m one of those people and I’m at the board level, so, I do have fear and concerns about my personal safety.”

The Anishinabek Nation and Nishnawbe Aski Nation are among those calling for the Thunder Bay police service to be disbanded.

In a joint statement released in March, they wrote, “it is now painfully clear that Indigenous people have no trust in the Thunder Bay Police Service or the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.

“Systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service and needs to be ripped out at its roots. We demand that the Solicitor General of Ontario proceed with dismantling the Thunder Bay Police Service.”

Ontario’s Solicitor General says she wants ongoing independent investigations into the service and the board to play out.

Morriseau supports the calls for dismantling the service but wonders what the alternative is.

“There has to be a good plan moving forward. You can’t just replace one with the another and not know what to do with that,” says Morriseau.

Contribute Button