APTN National News
The Thunder Bay Police Services Board apologized to Indigenous people in the northern Ontario city over the systemic racism in its municipal police force.
It’s the first step in a process to reform how the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) regards, interacts with and treats the city’s large Indigenous population and those from northern communities who attend school or seek medical care in the city.
“As hard as it is to say, we have to acknowledge that there is systemic racism in the board and in the police service,” Tom Lockwood, the board’s administrator, said Sunday.
“Having said that, I wish to apologize to each and every member of the Indigenous community of Thunder Bay for the existence of systemic racism. This community has suffered a lot over the years because of racism and for that, I apologize.”
Lockwood was appointed as the sole administrator of the board following two reports released last month by independent police watchdogs in Ontario.
The second, led by Senator Murray Sinclair for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, recommended that the board be dissolved and taken over by a single administrator while a board members receive training before taking over civilian duties for the police force again.
Both police watchdogs found systemic racism in the force.
Celina Reitberger, who was appointed the first Indigenous chair of the board days before Sinclair’s report was released, Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro, and city councillor Kristen Oliver are the three remaining board members. Two seats will have to be filled by the city and province.
Mauro did not attend Sunday’s apology. Neither did Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
Reitberger, who was appointed to the board over a year ago, offered a personal apology to the hundreds of community members in attendance.
“I don’t think I can apologize for an organization so I want to apologize for my failing,” she said. “I’ve been on the police service board for a year and after being so very involved in helping people who had issues with the police service, I begin to feel like wow, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.”
Reitberger said Sinclair’s recommendations offer a path forward for the Thunder Bay police.
Board members will be required to complete Indigenous cultural awareness training and governance training if they want their voting powers returned.
That training is scheduled for February and March.
Lockwood said he’s “hoping that everybody will take the training, and I’m confident they will.”
Following the apology community members joined in a sharing circle, which was closed to the media.
But the messages from community members were generally positive.
Ardelle Sagutcheway of Thunder Bay said the police watchdog reports’ findings gave her hope.
“It’s very validating for me in [proving] we’re not crazy,” she said. “We’re not making this stuff up.”
Molly Boyce, who says she was a victim of police brutality during the years she lived on the city’s streets, said the apology was a long time coming.
“I felt like they were apologizing to me because I was in the brunt of their brutality and their aggressiveness and their attitude and the way they spoke to me, just by the tone of their voice,” she said.
The city is expected to appoint a new member to the board this month.