Northwestern Ontario and its capital of Thunder Bay are better than this
This letter written in response to Tanya Talaga's Op Editorial to the Globe and Mail. It is also written with the intent to provide a firsthand knowledge from within the political and public safety community in the 807 region/Thunder Bay and with a cautionary reluctance NOT to escalate any further tensions in Thunder Bay.
I will be fully open and transparent and qualify my comments and opinions expressed herein - I am a former Thunder Bay Police Force (was a force then now called a service) Constable, former Native Criminal Courtworker of the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre (now called Indigenous centre ), past Liberal Candidate for the Ontario Legislature, former policy and projects advisor in the Minister's office at Industry Canada, a Métis Nation citizen, non resident member of the Red River Métis (MMF) and past Chairperson of the Northern Lake Superior Métis Community Leadership Committee to Self Government (also known as Region 2 of the Métis Nation of Ontario which encompasses Thunder Bay). past member of the Thunder Bay Flyers and proud son of Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown.
In watching and reading the news over the past few years at the "war" the community has had with the City of Thunder Bay Police Chiefs' Office I can only sit back and wonder why the 1980's city decision makers allowed the offices’ focus and trajectory to get this far off the "track" - both literally and figuratively. In addition, I also ask myself why has there not been more Federal Leadership in social justice and policing in the 807 region? Had the concerns raised in Thunder Bay been raised in Vancouver, Ottawa, or Toronto there would have been a locomotive with a full train of funds, remedies and plans applied to the concerns. Not commissions of inquiry. Thunder Bay residents know the problem. Thunder Bay and the 807 region has the leadership and people to solve this problem.
Abolition of the locally controlled, lead and funded police service is NOT the solution. To all the "Defund Police" partisans out there I simply respond - NOT NOW, NOT EVER. When bad things happen in the community you need the locally trained, highly educated local police officer to respond, solve and then support the community.
A recent history of the Office of Police Chief, eloquently stated by Ian Pattision earlier this year in Thunder Bay's Chronicle Journal, starts and ends with Gerry Oeullete the "big man" from Oshawa who came in as Chief and enacted his personal brand of clean up. Ouellete was driven by ego and his overarching desire to be "the big Southern Ontario man to clean up the 807 pond". His ego caused him to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars in an ill-fated attempt to paint the entire Thunder Bay Police as "bad and corrupt" and further that he was the only ONE with a silver bullet to correct the problem. In keeping with his ego, if you were not with him you were done. The very intelligent and largely left behind senior management team of the early 80s all having worked their way up through good component police work saw the writing on the wall and took early retirements and stayed silent as Ouellete rampaged through the department and curried favour with the City Council of the day.
Several attempts at reconciliation and with improving race and cultural relations with Thunder Bay Police, the rise of the Thunder Bay Multicultural Centre, a more diverse and inclusive 807 community all took a stronger, more defiant form through the 90s and into the 21st century. The sad and disappointing part is that Ouellete's stamp stayed on through his adherents Karl Ratz and Bob Herman continuing the path he started. More suited persons were and are here within the Thunder Bay Police community. They were looked over and dismissed as they did not and would not remain silent with the overarching methods of Ouellette Regime.
Fast forward to Chief JP Levesque a locally trained and educated police officer, former goaltender of the Thunder Bay Flyers, former correctional officer, and as open minded and inclusive person as there is. JP was built to make the changes that are needed in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario. I firmly believe had JP stayed on and Mayor Hobbs (former Thunder Bay Police Officer) been elected another term the Thunder Bay Police Service would be going in the direction it needs to and NOT moving to where others want the "train" to go for their own political agenda. Thunder Bay is not Vancouver, Ottawa, or Toronto.
The province, with the City's approval, now, in 2022, brings in outside specialists who will now in all probability try to "clean up" the Thunder Bay Police. They will create an untenable list of demands for the City of Thunder Bay to help make the police service be better. Bluntly, it did not work in 1982 and will not work in 2022. Local citizens and civic leaders need to undertake a course change and pivot the Thunder Bay Police. What is not needed is for more outside entities to brazenly come in and dissect what they "think" are 807 problems and then exacerbate them. A balanced, long-term plan from within 807 is needed
Thunder Bay is a vibrant, robust community filled with thought provoking and civic minded leaders from a variety of political, social, economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds - all of which need to be tapped into and called upon to make these changes. Policing is a community-based process with police officers' being the trustees of public trust and our Canadian warriors’ servants of peace, order, security, and protection.
Leadership is a tough process particularly when it comes to law & order and justice. When you don't have the support of the rack and file members of the police association you can not continue. The Chairperson and Chief of Police both have lost that and need to resign - effective immediately. That should be step one. If the City needs to bring in a specialist, then bring in a HR specialist to identify and help create a human resources and operational plan for the next Chief who MUST come from within the local rank and file.
Enough with telling Thunder Bay how bad the police are - time to start seeing the Thunder Bay Police for the superb policing agency they are. They continue to grow and improve. Support them, help them to improve the quality of life in the 807 regions. Thunder Bay must strive to be a community that does not respond to social media exaggerist or a "Tik Tok" video trying to go viral with creating a problem that is not there.
With sincere appreciation and full support to ALL Thunder Bay Police Service members.