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Sinclair to investigate Thunder Bay Police Services Board

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 @ 12:01 PM | By Paula Kulig

Sen. Murray Sinclair, the first Indigenous judge in Manitoba who later headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Canada’s residential schools, has been called upon to investigate the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.

Murray Sinclair

Sen. Murray Sinclair

Sinclair’s appointment was announced on July 24 by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, which said in a statement it has “serious concerns about the state of civilian police oversight and public confidence in the delivery of police services” in the Northern Ontario city.

His probe comes after First Nations leaders called for a review of the police services board on May 31, in light of a series of deaths involving Indigenous youth in the city and concerns over how they were investigated. Most recently, the bodies of two Indigenous teens were found in waterways in May, while a 34-year-old mother, Barbara Kentner, died on July 4 after being struck in the stomach by a metal trailer hitch on a Thunder Bay street.

The police service is also being investigated by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director over allegations of “systemic racism” concerning how it handles Indigenous deaths and disappearances. At the same time, the city’s police chief is facing charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice, and the mayor has been charged with extortion and obstruction of justice.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations communities in Northern Ontario, said in a statement he “welcomes” Sinclair’s appointment.

"We have raised serious issues over the actions of the Thunder Bay Police Service and the role of its civilian oversight body,” he said. “We are dismayed by the dysfunctionality of the police services board, and we are pleased that the provincial authority over police boards … has taken swift and meaningful action to address this crisis of confidence in policing."

The commission, an independent, quasi-judicial agency, said in its statement that it’s concerned with “board representatives stating that the public’s concerns about systemic racism existing within the service and the quality of the service’s investigations are without basis."

Sinclair, who is to release an interim report on Oct. 31 and a final report by March 31, 2018, will also be examining whether the board is fulfilling its duty to ensure “adequate and effective” police services, in accordance with the Police Services Act, and is upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation.