It’s the second time in four years it’s happened, but Ashinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe says this new appointment of an administrator to run the Thunder Bay police comes as news to him.
“I know Anishinabek Nation wasn’t included and as far as I know Nishnawbe Aski Nation wasn’t included in the decision either-or consulted,” he says.
“I know that even the statement that they had released after we of did our press conference, there was no inclusion or reaching out to the actual First Nations that brought the issue forward.”
On April 19, it was announced that lawyer Malcolm Mercer will be running the Thunder Bay Police Service for at least the next six months.
He was appointed by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission – the province’s police watchdog – on Tuesday.
Thunder Bay police have been mired in controversy for years with serious accusations of racism, incompetence and shoddy investigations when it comes to the deaths of First Nations people.
Northern Ontario MPP Sol Mamakwa says he isn’t impressed with the appointment.
“I think it means nothing,” he says. “The province, the city, the board is trying to make it look as if they’re doing something without really doing anything.”
The force is currently being investigated by the civilian police commission, Special Investigations Unit and Ontario Provincial Police.
Niganobe says at this point the only thing that makes sense is for the OPP to step in.
“It’s been demonstrated in the past that there’s an opportunity to change and there’s been effort to change and been plenty of reports put forward but at some point, the reports kind of get old,” he says.
“You know going through that process just kind of shows that there’s no forward motion on it. So, you have to take an alternative approach at some point.”
An administrator was also appointed to oversee the police services board in 2018.
This followed a scathing report by former senator Murray Sinclair which included 45 recommendations to address systemic racism in the force.
In an emailed statement, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum says NAN has raised concerns about the force and the board for years but nothing has changed – and it wasn’t consulted about the appointment either.
“We were only advised a few hours prior to the public announcement. As we do not have any knowledge of Mr. Mercer’s experience with policing issues or his engagement with the Indigenous community, we cannot comment on what he will be able to accomplish or how effective he will be,” she says.
“Nishnawbe Aski Nation remains committed to ending systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service, ensuring that all questionable deaths are re-investigated, and fighting for justice for all families affected.”
Police services board chair Kristen Oliver deferred comment to Mercer’s office.
Also, in an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Tribunals Ontario says they will not be commenting as long as the Thunder Bay Police Services Board is under investigation.