First Nation lawyer joins Thunder Bay police board in ‘challenging times’

Willow Fiddler
A new board member on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board was sworn in this week.

Indigenous lawyer Celina Reitberger has filled the position that some say will bring hope to a board that is currently under investigation.

She told APTN News that she wants to help police do their jobs better.

“I think what we have to do is acknowledge that they have an incredible job to do,” she said. “And how can we help them do it better by giving them an understanding of the people that they’re dealing with.”

Reitberger was sworn in this week.

She has worked for the Nishnawbe Aski Legal Services for 15 years helping people know their rights when it comes to police and also understanding the challenges officers face.

“What I hope to accomplish is building bridges,” Reitberger said. “I’m hoping that there can be opportunities for training for cultural sensitivity both for the board and it might spill over to the police.”

That might be starting to happen.

Last November the province’s police watchdog started a review of how the Thunder Bay police – police Indigenous people.

Then this past summer, a separate investigation into the police board over serious concerns of its public confidence and police oversight.

“If you want to effect change, I think you can do it better from the inside than being on the outside looking in,” she said.

Reitberger said police have to understand how the traumas suffered from residential schools and the 60s Scoop are affecting Indigenous peoples today.

“When the police are dealing with these very difficult situations we want to have some humanity and knowledge of where they’re coming from,” she said.

Police board chair Jackie Dojack welcomed Reitberger’s appointment.

“She really is going to bring that Indigenous perspective to us as an Indigenous person but also somebody who’s worked for Indigenous organizations and really can continuously bring that Indigenous perspective to the work we do as a board,” she said.

The board meets monthly and has plans to hold an anti-racism conference in the new year.

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