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

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

Police Chief Sylvie Hauth has announced her retirement, effective next year. 

In a statement released to media on Thursday morning, Hauth said she has informed the city’s police services board that she will retire from her position on June 14, 2023.

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

“I am hopeful that my one-year notice will provide adequate time for the board to initiate a recruitment and succession planning process for my replacement. I remain committed to my role as chief and will do everything I can to ensure a proper transition takes place with the newly appointed chief in 2023,” Hauth said in her statement.

“In my capacity as Chief of Police, I have dedicated myself to organizational change within our service, in a collaborative, consistent and transparent way. I can say with confidence that the Thunder Bay Police Service will continue to evolve thanks to 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 having served two interim stints as chief. She had spent 25 years with the police service, beginning 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 brass. Two of three police oversight agencies in Ontario plus the Ontario Provincial Police have launched investigations into allegations of criminal misconduct against members of the force, including its leadership.

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

Following that leaked report, First Nations leaders in northern Ontario led calls for the Thunder Bay Police Service to be disbanded and replaced with OPP oversight.

WATCH | First Nations leaders in northwestern Ontario call for TBPS disbandment, OPP oversight:

Calls to reinvestigate sudden deaths of Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, Ont.

A team reviewing sudden deaths in Thunder Bay, Ont., is calling on the city’s police force to reopen investigations into how multiple Indigenous people died between 2006 and 2019.

In April, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission appointed an administrator to oversee the Thunder Bay police oversight board, stating it believes “an emergency exists in the [Thunder Bay] board oversight.” Shortly after that decision, a majority of the oversight board resigned.

Last week, lawyers made closing arguments in Police Services Act hearings against two officers charged with neglect of duty and discreditable conduct over their work investigating the 2015 death of Stacy DeBungee from Rainy River First Nation, whose body was found in the McIntyre River. That investigation took place well before Hauth became chief. 

The case served as the impetus for a two-year investigation led by retired senator Murray Sinclair that found systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service. Hauth’s term began about a month before that report and a parallel report from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission were released. 

Hauth asked residents to back city police 

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

“I have said publicly that I will co-operate 100 per cent fully with all the investigations that are currently underway,” she said then. “You need to let due process take place. And for me and all the members of 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 address, that we take care of.

“That is our role, to ensure public safety, community work, safety and well-being. There are challenges and challenges will continue ahead. We don’t lose sight of the role that we play and we do that to the best of our abilities.”

At the time, she said the police force has evolved since those reports came out and the service remained dedicated to the community. 

“I’m hoping that speaks to itself in terms of our commitment as a service, in terms of our dedication to the work and our commitment not only to the work that we do, but to our community,” Hauth said. 

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