Senator Murray Sinclair says he’s been hearing stories of “hate-related crimes” as part of his investigation into the Thunder Bay Police Services Board.
The First Nations Independent senator and former judge in Manitoba released an interim report Friday afternoon updating his work so far.
He was hired in July to assess the work of the board that oversees the Thunder Bay Police Service for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
“In addition to the stories I have been told regarding hate-related crimes that have occurred in Thunder Bay,” Sinclair wrote, “Statistics Canada recently released a report entitled ‘Police-reported hate crime in Canada, 2015’.
“The highest rate of police-reported hate crime…in 2015 was recorded in Thunder Bay (22.3 per 100,000 population)…mostly the result of 10 incidents against Aboriginal populations., which accounted for 29 per cent of the total anti-Aboriginal hate crimes reported in Canada in 2015.”
Sinclair’s update was released the same day criminal charges were upgraded against a non-Indigenous man accused of throwing a trailer hitch from a passing car at an Indigenous woman. Barbara Kentner, 34, died of complications arising from the attack.
“Unfortunately, the circumstances involving Ms. Kentner are not uncommon for Indigenous Peoples in Thunder Bay,” Sinclair said in the 14-page update.
“This recitation of circumstances is designed to place the concerns about the board in the broader context of ongoing issues in Thunder Bay.”
Sinclair, who also chaired the country’s ground-breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Indian Residential School system, clarified he is not investigating any one person but doing more of a policy review.
His work comes at a time of strained race relations in the northwestern Ontario city that has struggled to salvage its reputation after a series of river deaths involving Indigenous people.
The situation has put its police force under a national spotlight and led to questions about the quality of the leadership of its board and municipal politicians.
Sinclair said he has hired a former police officer and lawyers as part of a team to help do the research he needs.
He appears most interested in how police and politicians have responded to concerns from Indigenous leaders thus far.
“Therefore, it can be seen that concerns about the intersection of racism, systemic racism, and policing in Thunder Bay are not new,” he wrote. “One of the areas of investigation I intend to pursue, in preparation for my final report, is the TBPSB’s level of awareness of previous reports and…the measures taken to address the various recommendations.”
Sinclair says he has assembled a team consisting of a former police officer and several lawyers to help him with the task.
So far he says he hasn’t seen anything resembling “misconduct” but reserves the right to make a case for that down the road.
He will stick to evaluating the oversight and whether he says, board members would benefit from regular interaction with Indigenous peoples – possibly even visiting a remote, fly-in community where youth who move to Thunder Bay for schooling call home.
“The apparent decline of attention to Indigenous issues – in a context of ongoing concerns about a racist climate in Thunder Bay and the series of deaths of Indigenous peoples – will be a significant aspect of the investigation,” Sinclair wrote.
He says he will also analyze the relationship between the board and the municipality, the makeup of the board, and whether it can improve the way it communicates with the public.
He says he’ll rely on interviews with present and past members of the board, police service, community and Indigenous groups to reach his conclusions. And help him make recommendations to relieve “the crisis of confidence currently held by Indigenous groups towards the board.”