THUNDER BAY - The Office of the Independent Police Review Director has found that systemic racism exists at an institutional level at the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“Our detailed review of cases involving sudden deaths of Indigenous men and women found TBPS investigators failed on an unacceptable high number of occasions to treat or protect the deceased and his or her family equally and without discrimination because the deceased was Indigenous,” Gerry McNeilly, Independent Police Review Director, writes in his report.
The findings of the report, first launched in November 2016 to look into the practices of the Thunder Bay Police Service for policing Indigenous people, were released on Wednesday.
As part of the review, 36 current and former Thunder bay Police officers and civilians were interviewed, as well as the chief coroner for Ontario, chief Forensic Pathologist, Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, Anishnabek Police Service, York Regional Police investigators, Crown counsel, and other participants in the criminal justice system.
The investigative team visited Thunder Bay more than two dozen times and conducted more than 80 meetings with Indigenous leaders and community members, community organizations and service providers, and members of the public.
McNeilly writes that his team heard “a disturbing pattern of negative and discriminatory interactions between TBPS officers and Indigenous people.”
“These encounters ranged from allegations of serious assaults to insensitive or unprofessional behaviour,” McNeilly writes. “Overall, our meetings reveals nothing short of a crisis of trust afflicting the relationship between Indigenous people and the TBPS.”
The report examined 37 investigations conducted by the Thunder Bay Police involving the deaths of Indigenous people since 2009. According to McNeilly, inadequacy on the part of TBPS into sudden death investigations was so problematic that at least nine of these cases should be reinvestigated.
“Based on the lack of quality of the initial investigations, I cannot be confident that they have been accurately concluded or categorized,” McNeilly writes.
McNeilly writes further that a number of investigators involved in these investigations “lacked the expertise and experience to conduct sudden death or homicide investigations.”
Further, investigators misunderstood when matters should be investigated, failed to connect autopsy reports to their own investigations, failed to know what was in their own investigative file, and had inadequate supervision.
“I found it unacceptable that a police service such as TBPS investigating a large number of serious, complex cases has no major crime unit and investigators may lead the investigation of such cases without appropriate training or experience,” McNeilly writes.
“The failure to conduct adequate investigations and the premature conclusions drawn in these cases is, at least in part, attributable to racist attitudes and racist stereotyping.”
McNeilly recommends a multi-discipline investigation team should be established to undertake the reinvestigation of the nine deaths.
McNeilly recognized that the findings of his report does not “represent a determination that all TBPS officers engaged in intentional racism,” and he cited the Aboriginal Liaison Unit that has received strong support in the community, though he recommends an enhanced and expanded role with the unit.
He added there are former and current officers who care about how TBPS serves Indigenous communities and welcome an opportunity to improve the relationship between TBPS and the Indigenous community.
“In my view that relationships can only be improved through fundamental changes in how TBPS, including its senior management, performs its duties,” McNeilly writes.
“Meaningful change must come with a public formal acknowledgement by TBPS of the serious deficiencies in how it investigated Indigenous missing persons and sudden or unexpected deaths,” McNeilly continues.
The report includes 44 recommendations regarding various aspects of policing and policies at the TBPS, including how it investigates sudden deaths, investigators in the Criminal Investigation Branch, other TPBS operational areas, how missing persons cases are handled, the relationship between the police and the coroner’s office and pathologists office, job recruitment, and racism in TBPS policing.
The TBPS should immediately ensure adequate staffing in its general investigation branch and Criminal Investigation Branch, as well as establish its own Major Crimes Unit and provide officers with appropriate training opportunities to work in these units.
In other operational areas, it is recommended that the Aboriginal Liaison Unit’s role be expanded into additional areas of the police service to strengthen the relationship between TBPS and the Indigenous community and increase the number of officers in the unit by at least three.
A three-year external peer-review process should also be launched, the report says, recommending "that every year, several sudden death and homicide investigations, selected either on a random basis or based on particular complexity, are peer-reviewed by experienced investigators from outside the police service."
The report is also calling on the TBPS service to reevaluate their missing person’s policies, procedures and practices following the release of the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the review of the Honourable Gloria Epstein’s report on Toronto Police Service’s missing person’s investigations.
The TBPS and the Office of the Chief Coroner, Ontario’s Chief Forensic Pathologist, and the Regional Coroner should implement the Thunder Bay Death Investigations Framework. Further, the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service should establish a forensic pathology unit in Thunder Bay.
“If a Forensic Pathology Unit cannot be located in Thunder Bay, TBPS and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service should establish, on a priority basis, procedures to ensure timely and accurate exchange of information on sudden death and homicide investigations and regular case-conferencing on such cases,” the report reads.
Regarding racism in TBPS policing, McNeilly recommends the local service focus on proactive actions to “eliminate systemic racism, including removing systemic barriers and the root causes of racial inequities in the service. TBPS should undertake a human rights organizational change strategy and action plan as recommended by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in October 2016.”
It states further that leadership with the TBPS create a permanent advisory group involving the chief of police and Indigenous leaders to address racism and other issues in the police service.
“TBPS should work with training experts, Indigenous leaders, Elders and the Indigenous Justice Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General to design and implement mandatory Indigenous cultural competency and anti-racism training for all TBPS officers and employees,” McNeilly recommends, adding that the training should be ongoing throughout an employee’s career, involve experiential training, allows respectful dialogue, and reflects the diversity of the Indigenous community.
There are several recommendations regarding recruitment to the force, including developing a strategy to increase diversity with prominence given to Indigenous candidates.
“TBPS should implement psychological testing designed to eliminate applicants who have or express racist views and attitudes,” McNeilly writes. “In Ontario, such specific testing is not done. It can be tailored to the TBPS experience. This testing should be implemented in Thunder Bay on a priority basis.”
With respect to the implementation of these recommendations, McNeilly said the TBPS should report to the OIPRD, which in turn will publically report on the progress of the implementation.
“On an annual basis, TBPS should provide the public with reports that provide data on sudden death investigations,” the report reads. “These reports can provide data, in a disaggregated Indigenous and non-Indigenous manner, detailing the total number of sudden death investigations with a breakdown of investigative outcomes, including homicide, accidental death, suicide, natural death and undetermined.”