Criminal Law

Dale to police: start dialogue to break cycle of distrust

By Staff

Two reports that address “systemic racism” within the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) should be viewed as a call to action to build trust with Indigenous people, Toronto criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale tells The Lawyer’s Daily.

However, Dale, principal of Dale Law Professional Corporation, tells the online publication that she worries that media coverage of these reports could lead to further distrust.

“Yes, it’s upsetting that there was systemic racism found in these reports, but people need to be reminded that the purpose of these reports isn’t to perpetuate hatred or further distrust of the police by the Aboriginal people,” says Dale, whose practice includes an office in Kenora, where 95 per cent of her clients are Indigenous.

“Not all police officers are racist, and people aren’t going to testify and co-operate with the police if they feel that they don’t trust them.”

The Broken Trust: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Police Service report, published by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), and the Thunder Bay Police Services Board Investigation report, produced by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC), outline ongoing racism within the police service that has eroded trust within Aboriginal communities.

The Lawyer’s Daily reports that each study includes:

  • an acknowledgement of the racism that exists
  • the need for cultural competency training
  • a recommendation to reopen cold case files

“The inadequacy of TBPS sudden death investigations the OIPRD reviewed was so problematic that at least nine of these cases should be reinvestigated,” director Gerry McNeilly says in the OIPRD report.

“Based on the lack of quality of the initial investigations, I cannot be confident that they have been accurately concluded or categorized.”

Dale says reopening these investigations would be viewed by the Indigenous community as a positive step, but solving these cold cases will require Thunder Bay police to build trust with that community.

“The reason for that is because they (the OIPRD) believe that due to some of the systemic racism there wasn’t enough followup and investigation in certain areas, certain samples weren’t sent to the (Ontario) Centre for Forensic Sciences,” she tells The Lawyer’s Daily, adding that this could result in “tangible, material results.”

“The people on these reserves have associated the police with taking their fathers away and putting them in jail, and not doing anything when their mother is being abused and being labelled as a rat if they testify in court. So, it’s extremely difficult, from a police perspective, to bridge this deepening sinkhole of trust between these two sets of people,” says Dale.

She tells the online publication the situation reflects the Broken Window Theory, which is a concept that says each problem that goes unattended in a particular environment — for example a broken window — negatively affects people's attitude toward that community and leads to further problems. Conversely, a well-tended environment, where issues are dealt with as they arise, positively affects attitudes and behaviour.

“When money and resources aren’t put into a place to uphold, or manage, a good standard of living on the reserves, well, it’s just going to keep perpetuating crime,” Dale says.

“One of the responses on how to combat that Broken Window Theory is by taking cars away from police officers and by having them engage more in foot patrols in communities.”

Dale also tells The Lawyer’s Daily that police should participate in healing lodges and meet with the community’s chief and council to build trust “so that this giant wound doesn’t further this cycle of systemic racism.”

Sylvie Hauth, Thunder Bay chief of police, said in a statement that with the guidance of an OCPC-appointed administrator, the board will move forward on the recommendations in both reports.

“The reports clearly state the need for a thoughtful and impactful plan to address the issues of systemic racism within the service and the board,” Hauth said, adding the recommendations “provide tools” to enable the force's relationship with the community to “significantly improve.”

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