Celina Reitberger, the first Indigenous chair of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, was sworn in Monday.
Reitberger, a member of Fort William First Nation, was appointed to the board by the provincial government in December 2017.
When asked for her reaction to assuming the new role, Reitberger said she was “shell-shocked, I was walking over here from the Indigenous Peoples Court and I was thinking ‘should I or shouldn’t I’, but I’m delighted that it turned out this way. I’m pleased to be here.”
The lawyer who spent 20 years in private practice, followed by 15 years with Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services takes over the leadership of the board on the eve of the release of two important reports.
The Ontario Independent Police Review Director will deliver his report Wednesday examining systemic racism in the force. It’s expected that just a few days later the Ontario Civilian Police Commission will release the results of its investigation into the actions and attitudes of the board.
“I think it’s perfect timing really.. I was not around when all of this came down. I came onto the board after both of those reports had been ordered so I’m not taking it personally, nor should anybody else on the board, but I think if we look at it as road map and a positive thing then I think we’re going to move forward in a very good way and we just have to bring the rest of the community with us.”
Bringing the community along “is not going to be easy” said Reitberger. On Sunday Dec. 9, the body of 17-year-old Braiden Jacob of Webequie First Nation was discovered in a Thunder Bay park.
“It’s very tragic,” said Reitberger of the death of the teenager who was in the city for grief and trauma counselling and had been reported missing on December 6.
“It’s a heartbreak for all, and we just have to keep trying to do better.”
Just one weekend earlier, a viral video showed a female police officer, who shouted “don’t spit at me”, striking a 17-year-old Indigenous girl who was strapped to an ambulance gurney.
“I am really hoping this goes to a restorative justice process and there can be healing for her and for the police officer,” said Reitberger noting that police chief Sylvie Hauth was supportive of the idea.
Reitberger, who succeeds Jackie Dojack, will preside over her first regular meeting of the board on December 18.