Watchdog Finds Systematic Racism in Thunder Bay Police Service

A watchdog agency is recommending that at least nine death investigations be reopened in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A watchdog agency is recommending that at least nine death investigations be reopened in Thunder Bay, Ontario. |  Photo: WDIO-TV file

Jon Ellis, WDIO-TV
Updated: December 12, 2018 03:38 PM

An Ontario provincial watchdog has concluded that systematic racism has hampered death investigations by the Thunder Bay Police Service, but says the department is taking steps to improve.

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The Office of the Independent Police Review Director reviewed 36 TBPS death investigations from the past decade and found that at least nine were so problematic that they should be reinvestigated.  It recommends the cases be looked at by a team including representatives from a First Nations police service and other outside agencies.

"The serious inadequacies and premature conclusions in TBPS investigations of Indigenous missing persons and sudden deaths have strained what was already a deeply troubled relationship," Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, said in a prepared statement.

The report issued by McNeilly's agency says reviewers found an unacceptably high number of occasions where TBPS investigators failed to treat victims and their families equally and without discrimination.

"The failure to conduct adequate investigations and the premature conclusions drawn in these cases is, at least in part, attributable to racist attitudes and racial stereotyping," the report says.

The review found that in some cases, sudden deaths or homicides were investigated by people who lacked expertise and experience.  It also found "significant deficiencies" in the police service's investigative files.

The 208-page report contains 44 recommendations, including that the police service use an external peer-review process for sudden death and homicide investigations, improve investigative staffing, create a Major Crimes Unit, and add officers to its Aboriginal Liaison Unit.  It recommends that leaders publicly acknowledge the existence of racism in the police service and say that it will not be tolerated.

Following the release of the report, the TBPS issued a statement acknowledging that racism exists within its service.

"The Thunder Bay Police Service is formally acknowledging that it must address the systemic racism, barriers and biases that exist within its service," the police statement said.

Earlier, TBPS Chief Sylvie Hauth said the department is working toward bias-free policing and is still studying and considering the extensive report.

"In the coming days, we will examine these recommendations. It is our hope that they will be of great value as we continue to build trust with the Indigenous community," Hauth said.

The report details some of the steps the TBPS has already taken, including a diversity project, organizational changes, and efforts to establish and maintain relationships with Indigenous communities.  The police service has also posted a list of steps it has taken to address systemic issues on its website.

The OIPRD, which is is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, began the two-year investigation in response to public complaints about the TBPS' handling of the 2015 death of Stacy DeBungee.  The watchdog agency conducted dozens of interviews with current and former members of the police force as well as First Nations police services and provincial officials, and also held more than 80 meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community and service organizations, individuals, and Indigenous leaders.

"Overall, our meetings revealed nothing short of a crisis of trust afflicting the relationship between Indigenous people and TBPS. This crisis of trust was palpable at most of our meetings, whether the participants were youth, Elders, service providers, professionals or Indigenous leaders," the report says.

Though the report says systemic racism exists at an institutional level within the TBPS, it emphasizes that not all TBPS officers engaged in intentional racism.

The entire report can be read at .


Jon Ellis, WDIO-TV

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