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Thomas Lockwood apologizes on behalf of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board for failing to provide appropriate oversight of the city’s police service in how it treats Indigenous people. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC) 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 […]

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