The newly appointed police Chief of Thunder Bay, Darcy Fleury, is resolute in his mission to reshape the police force and rebuild its strained relationship with the Indigenous community. Having personally experienced racism, Fleury, a Métis man, has a unique perspective that he believes will help him make the necessary changes within the force.
Zero Tolerance on Racism
Fleury made his stance clear in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, asserting, “Racism will not be tolerated and it will cost people their jobs.” This bold statement comes after a series of damning reports have exposed the systemic racism towards Indigenous people within the Thunder Bay police force. Notably, an expert panel’s findings this past spring highlighted a “profound lack of trust” between the police and the Indigenous community.
Fleury’s Personal Experience with Racism
Drawing from his personal experiences, the veteran RCMP officer, who previously served as a district commander in central Alberta, commented on his ability to identify racism. “If you’ve encountered it, you can tell in a heartbeat,” he said. “You can know through the conversations or the reactions or the interactions. You can tell.”
He also acknowledged that being in a position of power, he’s less likely to be subjected to overt racist behaviors. However, he remains vigilant and is actively seeking any hidden biases within his team.
Steps Towards Accountability and Reconciliation
In a move towards transparency and accountability, every front line officer under Chief Fleury’s leadership is equipped with a body camera. The footage from these cameras is routinely reviewed by sergeants and supervisors. Fleury pointed out, “We haven’t seen any cases on the body cam of anything overt,” referring to incidents of racism.
Moreover, as part of the force’s commitment to reconciliation, every officer undergoes anti-racism training. The force is also actively engaging in First Nation cultural awareness programs and is in the process of establishing a volunteer Indigenous advisory committee. Fleury emphasized the importance of learning from past mistakes: “We won’t forget what happened in the past, but we need to work together and continue to work together to make sure that we’ve learned.”
Collaborative Policy Overhaul
Fleury is seeking the insights of First Nations organizations in the process of overhauling several police policies, especially those related to missing persons. Previous independent reviews revealed significant flaws in how Thunder Bay police handled investigations involving missing Indigenous people. Fleury stated, “We want to be very clear on how they suggest we should also be managing them,” showing a collaborative approach to the sensitive issue.
Efforts are also underway to make the force more representative of Thunder Bay’s demographics by hiring more Indigenous members and individuals from other marginalized groups. Despite these efforts, Fleury acknowledges the broader challenges in police recruitment, noting that “policing is not quite the flavour of the day like it used to be.”
Past Investigations and Calls for Systemic Change
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director had previously found evidence of systemic racism towards Indigenous people at an institutional level within the Thunder Bay police. This, combined with other investigations that unearthed shortcomings in sudden death cases, led the Ontario Provincial Police to re-investigate 13 cases of sudden deaths of Indigenous individuals dating back to 2006.
An expert panel in April stressed the urgency of implementing an anti-racism policy, a trauma-informed approach to policing, and a formal forum for consultation with First Nations.
Despite the magnitude of the challenges ahead, Fleury remains optimistic and committed. “I don’t feel a whole lot of weight because I know what needs to be done,” he confidently expressed, hoping to heal and unite the community.