Thunder Bay’s mayor reiterated his view that the city continues to face undue scrutiny and negative attention in the wake of a pair of reports released by Ontario police oversight bodies late last year.
Those reports made dozens of recommendations to combat systemic racism in the municipal police force and its civilian oversight board.
Bill Mauro made those comments while criticizing the December 2018 reports by Ontario Independent Police Review Director Gerry McNeilly and Sen. Murray Sinclair, who prepared his findings for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. Mauro was speaking at a mayoral town hall at a south-side hotel Tuesday evening.
Mauro responded to a question from a member of the audience, who asked what the mayor’s priorities were to make Thunder Bay a “world-class city,” referencing attracting national and international sporting events like the recent Telus Cup hockey championships and the upcoming Canada Special Olympic Winter Games in 2020. The question dealt with to what extent infrastructure spending and reducing crime should make up those efforts, as people visiting take their experiences back home with them.
“The two reports that came down … didn’t help the city of Thunder Bay in terms of its reputation,” Mauro said. “And I can tell you it drives me crazy having to listen to and fight back against the perception of our community that’s being created on the national stage, not only because of, but largely because of those two reports.”
“We all have the same problems, pretty much, and this idea that, somehow, Thunder Bay is worse than everybody else and that we’re the hate crime capital of Canada or the murder [capital], you know, it’s just taking these stats and using them to sell newspapers and it drives me insane.”
Thunder Bay recorded the country’s highest homicide rates in 2017, 2016, 2014, 2012 and 2010. The city also had the highest rate of hate crimes per 100,000 people that were reported to police in the country in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. It also topped the list in 2015 and was third a year later.
In his comments, Mauro also bristled at suggestions that it took McNeilly’s and Sinclair’s reports to identify racism in Thunder Bay.
“I can tell you, as a city, you should be taking great pride in the policies and the programs and the processes that are in place, and that have been in place, for five or 10 years, long before those two guys brought their reports down,” he said to loud applause from the room.
“We all need to stand up for ourselves and we need to tell these guys what they’re doing, what they’re saying, what they’re reporting, to try and make us look like some anomaly across the country is absurd and it’s ridiculous.”
When asked about his comments after the meeting, Mauro said he was “hoping to provide some balance.”
“We acknowledged to everybody we’ve ever [talked] to that Thunder Bay has its challenges,” he said. “I get criticized sometimes for looking like I’m pushing back too hard and not acknowledging the problem.”
“It’s just that we’re not the only city that has those same problems.”
Similar issues surrounding racism and policing in other Ontario cities like Toronto and Ottawa have been widely covered; the Ontario Human Rights Commission also released a report late in 2018 on racial profiling by Toronto police.
When asked about that type of scrutiny in other municipalities — particularly Toronto, where many national media outlets are headquartered — Mauro acknowledged it.
“Perhaps they do,” he said.