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Thunder Bay police board apologizes, pledges to improve police-Indigenous relations

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The civilian oversight board for the Thunder Bay Police Service has publicly acknowledged and apologized for systemic racism in the organization and the local force, and is pledging to work together with the entire community to move forward.

That was at the core of a “reconciliation circle” held in the city on Sunday at the Ka Na Chi Hih centre on the city’s south side. In addition to issuing the formal apology, officials heard suggestions from the community on how best to go about repairing the relationship between police and Indigenous people — one that Sen. Murray Sinclair called an “emergency” in his review of the civilian board tasked with overseeing the police.

“As hard as it is to say, we have to acknowledge that there is systemic racism in the board and in the police service,” police board administrator Thomas Lockwood told the crowd of about 300 people.  “Having said that, on behalf of the board, I wish to apologize to each and every member of the Indigenous community of Thunder Bay for the existence of systemic racism.”

Lockwood is the Mississauga-based lawyer who was appointed by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to run the police services board while its members receive necessary training.

“This community has suffered a lot over the years because of racism and for that, I apologize.”

About 300 people attended Sunday’s ceremony, including police chief Sylvie Hauth and members of the police service, along with representatives from the city.  Mayor Bill Mauro, who also sits on the police board, was not present.

Sinclair’s report, prepared for the civilian police commission, found that the local police services board failed in its duty to provide proper oversight to city police and didn’t adequately address concerns raised by Indigenous people about their interactions with the force.

The Ontario Independent Police Review Director found that racism tainted the death investigations of numerous Indigenous people.

Robin McGinnis is the chief of Rainy River First Nations. The community near Fort Frances was the home of Stacy DeBungee; his flawed death investigation by Thunder Bay police sparked increased scrutiny of the local force. (Nicole Ireland/CBC )

“The fact that it’s been acknowledged here today, I think … it’s huge, I think it’s a huge first step,” said Robin McGinnis, the chief of Rainy River First Nations.  The community west of Fort Frances was the home of Stacy DeBungee; the flawed police investigation into his death sparked the wide-ranging probes that called for police officials to acknowledge and fix the existence of systemic racism in the force and police board.

“It needs to be the starting block for moving forward.”

McGinnis said that progress will need to include everybody — the Thunder Bay community at-large, Indigenous people, police and the services board — working together.

“I have a sense of hope,” he said. “Hopefully I’m not disappointed but the acknowledgements today have backed up that hope that I have.”

Brad DeBungee (left) speaks with Thunder Bay police chief Sylvie Hauth after the release of the Ontario Independent Police Review Director’s report into systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service. (CBC)

For Brad DeBungee, moving forward means a reinvestigation of the deaths of his brother and those of other Indigenous people that the province’s police watchdog found lacking.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

Board member training scheduled

The apology “signals to everyone that mistakes have been made and we’re going to try and do better,” said police board chair Celina Reitberger.

The training necessary for board members — Reitberger, Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro and Coun. Kristen Oliver, along with any incoming appointees — to regain or acquire voting power is scheduled to take place by the end of March.

That includes instruction in cultural competency and police board governance.

Celina Reitberger is the chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Reitberger said the board has also taken the recommendations in Sinclair’s report and broken them down into what can be accomplished in the short, medium and long term. She added that the board is also in the process of taking applications to fill out the vacant positions.

She said that the board is listening to people’s concerns and advice on how to move forward.

“It’s not just going to be ‘oh that was all very nice and you’ve had your say, now go away and let us do what we want to do,'” she said. “There will be definite attention paid to what people are recommending.”

Reitberger said another sharing circle for people to share their experiences with city police is also being planned.

About 300 people attended the reconciliation circle on Sunday at the Ka Na Chi Hih centre in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Working together to build better relationships was a common theme expressed by many in attendance on Sunday.

“All of us as communities, all of us a leaders, is the only way that’s going to change the landscape of this issue that we’re dealing with,” Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins said during his speech.

“It can be done.”

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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