An independent panel of experts is recommending more representation from First Nations in top positions of the Thunder Bay Police Service and the board overseeing it.
“The Thunder Bay Police Services Board must make changes today, to discharge this statutory responsibility in the most thoughtful, inclusive, and consultative manner possible,” the report called Turning the Page produced by the Independent Expert Panel and released Tuesday states.
“The health of the Service, its future direction, and its relationship with the community, especially the First Nations, depend critically on who is placed at the helm.”
The panel was appointed by the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to assess the culture of both organizations. It released an interim report today after consulting with community and police service members.
The report says urgent measures are needed regarding police chief selection, police board appointments and labour relations, and suggests the next chief should be Indigenous or another person of colour with police leadership experience.
“We have identified two key success factors that must inform the selection of the new Chief of Police: (1) the selection process, and (2) the attributes of the new chief (criteria). With the former, each component of the selection process will demonstrate to the public that the process is open and fair, and that the chosen candidate is the one who will best serve the local community,” the report says.
“For the latter, we have developed a profile of the ‘ideal candidate’ not only based on our own experience and expertise, but on the perspectives of the community, as heard through consultations.”
According to the report, the board must, “apply Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) lens to the selection process” of the new chief.
“Consult with community, including First Nations groups, Thunder Bay Police Association and Thunder Bay Senior Officers Association, in developing selection criteria that incorporate cultural competence,” it adds.
“Consult with, seek input from and participation of Fort William First Nation, Anishinabek Nation, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Matawa First Nations, Grand Council Treaty #3 in the selection committee and process and Conduct outreach to attract candidates from First Nations and other backgrounds.”
It also recommends reaching out to the First Nations Police Governance Council and First Nations Chiefs of Police Association and “give preference to selecting a Chief who is Indigenous, or, alternatively, from a racialized background, who possesses demonstrated police leadership experience and meets the attributes…”
The report outlines 12 “characteristics” for selecting a new chief that includes, a candidate who “demonstrates sound knowledge and appreciation of Thunder Bay as the regional hub of Northwestern Ontario; possesses a critical understanding of the importance of social determinants of community safety and well-being, such as poverty, homelessness, mental health, and racism; and embraces, supports, promotes, and works to ensure strong and effective civilian governance.
It also recommends the board, “ensure that in a five-member Board, two are First Nation members drawn from local and remote communities. In an expended seven-member Board, Indigenous representation should rise to three.”
The report is recommending the board expand to seven with at least one member from Fort William First Nation that sits next door to Thunder Bay.
“We have heard from communities; they are frustrated, they have lost faith, and they look in vain for the implementation of the hundreds of recommendations that lie entombed in past reports. Change will not happen until and unless the Province and the City act wisely and with deliberation…,” the report notes.
The report is the latest in a series of reviews to scrutinize policing in the northern Ontario city, including some that have found evidence of systemic racism, and follows the recent suspension of the now-former chief of police.
A final report is expected early next year that the panel says will focus on “a roadmap for change” to rebuild trust between the city, police board and community.
In the meantime, the panel says appointing a new police chief and re-constituting the board are areas that need immediate attention to ensure the proper leadership is in place to oversee long-term changes.
With files from the Canadian Press