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Former Thunder Bay police chief arrested, charged in misconduct probe

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THUNDER BAY, ONT. -

A former police chief in the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay was arrested and charged on Friday, marking the third arrest in an ongoing investigation by provincial police into allegations of misconduct at the force.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said they arrested Sylvie Hauth, 57, and charged her with two counts of obstructing justice, one count of breach of trust and one obstruction count.

An undated photo of former Thunder Bay Police Chief Sylvie Hauth. Ontario Provincial Police have arrested and charged the former Thunder Bay police chief as part of an ongoing misconduct probe. (File photo/CTV News)

Hauth was then released, the force said. She is set to appear in court on May 7.

The OPP did not provide any further comment on the case.

Shortly after the charges were announced, Hauth's lawyer, Scott Hutchison, said the former police chief "is confident she will prevail."

"The decision to charge Chief Hauth is both disappointing and regrettable," Hutchison wrote in a statement.

Hauth has served Thunder Bay for decades, "beginning as a front line police officer, eventually rising through the ranks to serve as the service's first female chief of police for the last six years of her career," he wrote.

"She looks forward to her trial where she will present her defence," Hutchison said.

Third arrest in the ongoing investigation

Hauth became the third – and most high profile – arrest in the OPP's investigation.

Holly Walbourne, the former in-house lawyer for the police service, was charged earlier this week with similar offences. Walbourne's lawyers said they were shocked at the charges and looked forward to defending them in court.

In December, police arrested officer Michael Dimini and charged him with two counts of assault, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

The charges come after Ontario's attorney general asked the OPP in late 2021 to look into allegations of misconduct by members of the Thunder Bay police force.

In court documents filed Friday, police allege Hauth and Walbourne obstructed the Thunder Bay Police Services Board between Oct. 8, 2021, and Oct 19, 2021 by "practicing deception, including the making of false statements."

Police also allege the two made false and misleading comments to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, the documents show.

The Thunder Bay police force has faced intense scrutiny in recent years after reports found its investigations into the sudden deaths of Indigenous people had been tainted by racist attitudes and stereotyping, while others raised concerns about the ability of its senior leaders to run day-to-day operations.

Police service looking to move forward

Current Thunder Bay police Chief Darcy Fleury, who took over the top job nearly a year ago, said Friday that the force has "fully co-operated" in the OPP's investigation.

"It is another step toward resolution of this matter, and our ability to wholly move forward as a police service," he wrote in a statement.

He said his officers remain dedicated to serving the community.

"Our members have remained committed and embraced a culture of accountability," Fleury said. "As the justice process is carried out, we will continue our path forward, learning from the past in order to make the most of the future."

Hauth took over the force in late 2018 in the shadow of two scathing oversight reports detailing how racist attitudes and stereotyping had tainted investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people. Nine of those deaths were reinvestigated because of how poorly they were initially handed.

The OPP investigation was launched around the same time as an investigation by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission into allegations of misconduct by senior police members, also initiated at the request of the province.

The commission would eventually bring charges against Hauth under the Police Services Act, but she resigned before she could go before a public tribunal.

Hauth was alleged to have overseen an improper criminal investigation into the chair of the police board, former Fort William First Nation chief Georjann Morriseau, according to allegations laid out in tribunal documents.

The ex-chief would later allegedly try to cover up her involvement to avoid responsibility for not immediately quashing or transferring the investigation to another police service, given the conflict of interest in investigating a board chair tasked with overseeing her performance, documents say.

As the investigation played out, an administrator was appointed by the civilian commission in April 2022 to helm the police board. In a report, administrator Malcolm Mercer said much of what led to "the current situation" had to do with Dimini's 2019 promotion to sergeant.

His report said Dimini's promotion had been ascribed to favouritism and unfairness on the part of Hauth and Walbourne, allegations both denied, his report noted.

The report also notes the board chair, Morriseau, believed the investigation into her conduct was retaliation for matters brought to the board, including Dimini's promotion.

Morriseau was never charged.

CBC News also reported Dimini was further promoted to staff sergeant during the OPP investigation, even as allegations of misconduct had already surfaced.

Members of the Thunder Bay police had filed human rights complaints alleging retaliation from Walbourne and Hauth when they raised concerns about Dimini's alleged misconduct. The claims allege Hauth and Walbourne had a personal relationship with Dimini and allegedly covered up allegations of professional and criminal misconduct on his behalf.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Lawyers acting for Walbourne and Hauth did not immediately respond to questions about the allegations detailed in complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

In response to CBC News in 2022, Dimini said questions about the wide-ranging allegations included "falsehoods" and inaccuracies.

Hauth's predecessor was also mired in legal troubles before his retirement in 2018. Charges were dismissed against him in a case where he was alleged to have told the mayor that he was the subject of a possible extortion investigation.

– This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024. 

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