Administrator in charge of Thunder Bay police oversight body details divisions and gaps in governance

The administrator overseeing the Thunder Bay Police Services Board said in a report released Thursday that he found a divided group and “a very concerning failure” to act on past recommendations.

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) released Malcolm Mercer’s report on Thursday, about six months after he was appointed to take control of the city’s police watchdog.

His appointment is the second time in the past four years that a provincially appointed administrator has been appointed to lead the police commission. It tried to emerge from a turbulent period following a thorough review by Murray Sinclair that led to the dismantling of the previous council in 2018, along with a series of recommendations.

Mercer notes in his report, which was submitted last month, that he did not label his review an investigative one, but did come to some conclusions about what happened at the board that led to his appointment.

Fear that there are no more “failures”

Mercer said appointing new board members and new police leaders won’t be enough to fix the city’s policing environment.

“While I conclude that the board did not implement the recommendations, policies and procedures as it should have done, I also conclude that the board was not equipped to do all that was asked of it” , he wrote.

“A small part-time council with part-time support will not accomplish what is needed in Thunder Bay. If all that happens is the appointment of new people, there is the very real possibility of another failure to advance crucial goals.

Mercer listed a significant number of Sinclair’s recommendations that have not been implemented, including the first, which concerns a clear statement of the council’s role in police department governance.

“While the council has dealt with day-to-day matters and done a good job in developing the strategic plan and the construction project, there has been an unacceptable delay in advancing the recommendations of the OCPC and insufficient attention policy implications” of recommendations from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OPIRD), he wrote.

The Ontario Civilian Commission of Police released a report Thursday from Mercer, which says it has drawn conclusions about what happened at the police services board that led to his appointment. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Conflict and Divisions

In the report, Mercer also pointed to several events that created conflict and deep divisions within the police department and council, involving council member Georjann Morriseau, Chief Sylvie Hauth and several senior officers.

In June 2020, then-president Morriseau intervened in a contract grievance process with the association representing the executives and reached an agreement without the involvement of Hauth or the board.

Later that summer, Morriseau was approached at a store by an officer who said he suspected another officer was involved in leaking confidential information. This encounter, which Morriseau brought to the attention of Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes, set off a chain of events that led to an investigation to determine if Morriseau had committed a breach of trust. Provincial police have since concluded that there are no grounds to lay charges against Morriseau.

Hauth and Hughes’ handling of the situation is at the heart of what led to both of their jobs being suspended.

At the time of Mercer’s appointment in March, the board was facing a swirling leadership crisis with a series of human rights complaints filed by Morriseau, as well as current and former leaders. Hughes had been suspended and provincial police confirmed they had launched a criminal investigation involving members of the Thunder Bay Police Department.

Three of the five board members – chair Kristen Oliver and provincial appointees Michael Power and Roydon Pelletier – resigned when Mercer was appointed.

Previously, the council formed an independent panel of experts to create recommendations to improve policing in Thunder Bay.

This group held a series of public consultations in Thunder Bay over the summer, and in July the group’s chair, Alok Mukherjee, said he hoped to present a set of draft recommendations within weeks.

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