Some progress in tackling systemic racism in Thunder Bay police, report says

But it says the jury is out on whether the level of implementation will be enough to restore the broken trust.

Police in Thunder Bay, Ont., have taken encouraging steps to address systemic racism in the force but more work needs to be done, the province’s police watchdog said in a new report on Wednesday.

The report comes one year after the Office of the Independent Police Review Director – the OIPRD – identified serious pervasive issues with the police service and made 44 recommendations aimed at addressing the bleak state of affairs.

“There remains much to do,” the new report states. “The implementation of numerous recommendations represents a work in progress.”

The OIPRD, which looked at the Thunder Bay police investigation of nine Indigenous deaths, released a report called “Broken Trust” in December 2018. The 206-page report concluded the investigations were shoddy – in part because of systemic racism – and recommended the deaths be reinvestigated.

Northern Ontario 

That report concluded the police service in the northern Ontario city was rife with racist attitudes, and that a “crisis of trust” existed between police and Indigenous residents.

In its review of the progress made since then, the OIPRD says the police service and its board have made some progress on implementing the recommendations. But it says the jury is out on whether the level of implementation will be enough to restore the broken trust.

On the plus side, the report praises the creation of a “robust framework” for the reinvestigation of the nine cases identified. Outside agencies have been given direct involvement and the community has been able to provide input, the report says.

“Other examples of positive change include enhanced training and education in a variety of areas, the creation of a major crimes unit, the hiring of additional officers, a new recruitment plan designed to promote diversity and inclusion within TBPS, and an emphasis on building cultural competencies,” the report says.

Key barrier

A key barrier to implementing some recommendations, the report states, is a lack of money, although some extra funding has been provided. All levels of government, it says, must recognize extraordinary measures are required to alleviate the “crisis of significant proportions” that existed.

Police Chief Sylvie Hauth was not available to comment and the police service itself had no immediate response to the report. There was no immediate reaction either from Indigenous communities.

The report concludes that some recommendations are only into the planning stages but acknowledges that full implementation will take longer than the one year since they were made. The OIPRD said it would continue to keep an eye on things, but urged the police oversight board to have an “active and ongoing role” in monitoring the force’s response.

“Our recommendations did not promote an idealized version of TBPS, but what is required to address the serious, long-standing issues facing the police service, to ensure that adequate, effective and nondiscriminatory policing is provided and to protect the public it serves,” the OIPRD says.


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