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Amid scrutiny and human rights complaints, Thunder Bay police chief announces retirement

Amid human rights complaints, investigations and external oversight, the police department and its oversight board in Thunder Bay, Ont., have another task ahead of them: find a new chief.

Police chief Sylvie Hauth has announced her retirement, starting next year.

In a statement released to the media Thursday morning, Hauth said she had notified the city’s police services board that she would be retiring from her position on June 14, 2023.

Hauth’s retirement comes after 30 years as a member of the city’s police department.

“I hope my one year notice will allow sufficient time for the board to initiate a recruitment and succession planning process for my replacement. I remain committed to my role as leader and will do all I can to ensure a smooth transition with the newly appointed leader in 2023,” Hauth said in his statement.

“As Chief Constable, I have been dedicated to driving organizational change within our service in a collaborative, consistent and transparent manner. I can say with confidence that the Thunder Bay Police Service will continue to evolve because of the people who remain focused on serving and protecting all members of this great community.”

Hauth was hired as full-time police chief in late 2018 after serving as acting chief twice. She had spent 25 years in the police department, starting as a front desk cadet and rising to the rank of deputy chief.

Intense year of pressure

The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) in northwestern Ontario has been under intense scrutiny and pressure from multiple directions for months.

Current and former employees have filed human rights complaints against police officers. Two of the three police oversight bodies in Ontario as well as the Ontario Provincial Police have launched investigations into allegations of criminal misconduct against members of the force, including its leaders.

In March, a confidential report was leaked to the media, including CBC News, detailing serious concerns about TBPS investigations into sudden deaths of almost exclusively Indigenous people, and a recommendation was issued to reinvestigate 14 Indigenous deaths. , with the possibility of others coming.

In the wake of this leaked report, First Nations leaders in northern Ontario have called for the Thunder Bay Police Service to be disbanded and replaced with oversight by the Ontario Provincial Police.

WATCH | First Nations leaders in northwestern Ontario are calling for the dismantling of TBPS and oversight by the Ontario Provincial Police:

Calls to reinvestigate sudden Indigenous deaths in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

A team investigating sudden deaths in Thunder Bay, Ont., is asking the city’s police force to reopen investigations into the deaths of multiple Indigenous people between 2006 and 2019.

In April, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission appointed an administrator to oversee the Thunder Bay Police Oversight Board, saying it believed “there is an emergency in the [Thunder Bay] board oversight. Shortly after this decision, the majority of the members of the supervisory board resigned.

Last week, lawyers presented closing arguments at hearings under the Police Services Act against two officers charged with negligence of duty and dishonorable conduct in the course of their work investigating the death in 2015 of Stacy DeBungee of Rainy River First Nation, whose body was found in the McIntyre River. This investigation took place long before Hauth became chief.

The case provided the impetus for a two-year investigation by retired Senator Murray Sinclair that uncovered systemic racism within the Thunder Bay Police Department. Hauth’s tenure began about a month before the release of this report and a parallel report by the Ontario Civilian Commission of Police.

Hauth asked residents to support the municipal police

In a March interview with CBC News, Hauth asked residents to continue supporting the police force despite these ongoing issues with the service.

“I have said publicly that I will cooperate 100% with all investigations that are currently underway,” she said at the time. “You must follow due process. And for me and everyone in my service, public safety is paramount. We are here. We have a job to do. There are a lot of issues in our community that we are dealing with, including we take care.

“It is our role, to ensure public safety, community work, security and well-being. There are challenges and challenges will continue. We do not lose sight of the role we play and we let’s do it to the best of our abilities.”

At the time, she said the police force had evolved since those reports were published and the service remained dedicated to the community.

“I hope this speaks for itself in terms of our commitment to service, in terms of our dedication to the job and our commitment not just to the work we do, but to our community,” Hauth said. .