The administrator hired to take over the Thunder Bay Police Services Board says it has not been disbanded.
“There is no order to dissolve the board, to dismantle the board, to dismember the board,” said Tom Lockwood.
“The board is functioning and what is happening is an administrator, namely myself, is put in charge on a temporary basis until an education piece which I outlined, is completed.”
Members of the police board must undergo a new training program before they get their voting powers back.
The board is responsible for advising the Thunder Bay police force on policing issues – such as developing hiring and recruitment policies.
Lockwood was put in place as a result of a report from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission led by Senator Murray Sinclair.
The board’s first order of business Tuesday was to echo the findings in Sinclair’s report.
“We acknowledge unequivocally that systemic racism exists both in the service and the board. By making this statement we want to acknowledge that the Board has failed the Indigenous community,” Lockwood read from a statement.
Lockwood has been appointed administrator of the board for one year – but he said he wants to see members take back its powers well before that.
“It’s important to get this board functioning so those of us here will take the training,” he said.
“When new members are appointed then they will have to take the training.”
Members of the board said it plans to complete the training by February.
The training will focus on the responsibilities of the board including cultural awareness.
The current board is made up of Chair Celina Reitberger, Mayor Bill Mauro, and Councillor Kristen Oliver.
Currently there are two vacant seats that need to be filled by the province and city.
Until then, Police Chief Sylvie Hauth said she’ll be working closely with Lockwood.
Hauth is tasked with addressing the 44 recommendations contained in a damning report about the officers under her command from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
“Director McNeilly clearly stated in his report, ‘We cannot lose this opportunity to improve the relationship between TBPS and Indigenous communities,’” said Hauth.
“The recommendations in this report provide tools to enable that relationship to significantly improve.”
Hauth said she’ll be consulting with her senior administration and service members to come up with an action plan in January.
One sticking point is a statement released last weekend by the Thunder Bay Police Association that denies that any racism exists.
Reitberger said the association misinterpreted the report.
“We are focusing on systemic racism. Don’t forget that first word because if you forget the first word then people start taking it personally. We are not selecting or pointing at anyone and saying you’re a racist person,” she said.
“So if someone’s out there throwing scud missiles that’s only going to set us back.”
The board plans to hold a community circle to formally acknowledge and apologize in January for failing the Indigenous community.
“We want to do it respectfully. We’ll have elders there, we’ll have ceremony and I think it’s something people are going to appreciate,” she said.
Reitberger said she encourages members of the Indigenous community to apply for the vacant seats on the board that should be filled by February.