Former Thunder Bay police lawyer charged in OPP misconduct investigation


 A former in-house lawyer for the Thunder Bay Police is facing criminal charges as part of an active investigation into allegations of misconduct by members of the force, the second person arrested as part of the years-long probe by Ontario Provincial Police.

Holly Walbourne was arrested and charged Tuesday with three counts of obstruction of justice, one count of breach of trust and one count of obstructing a public or peace officer.

She is the second member of the force to face charges as part of the OPP’s investigation into alleged misconduct in the force. Police arrested Michael Dimini and charged him with two counts of assault, breach of trust and obstruction of justice in December.

OPP have so far been tight-lipped about the substance of their investigation and the charges. They say the probe stems from a request in late 2021 by the Ministry of Attorney General to investigate allegations of misconduct by members of the Thunder Bay police.

In a brief written statement, lawyers acting for Walbourne said they are “shocked and disappointed” by the OPP’s decision to charge her.

“We look forward to seeing the OPP’s evidence and to defending the case in court,” said lawyers Samara Secter and Frank Addario.

The police service and police board released a joint statement saying Walbourne had resigned her job nearly a year ago. She continued to work on retainer after that, in part to offer transitional support to a newly appointed chief.

“Ms. Walbourne is no longer providing services in any capacity,” the statement said.  “We thank the OPP for its ongoing work in this matter.”

The Thunder Bay Police Service has been under intense scrutiny after reports in recent years found investigations into the sudden deaths of several Indigenous people had been tainted by racist attitudes and stereotyping rife in the northern Ontario police force. Other reviews questioned the ability of its senior leaders to run day-to-day operations.

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 ministry.

That investigation ultimately found an allegation that Walbourne had colluded with ex-police chief Sylvie Hauth in response to the commission’s inquiries was unsubstantiated.

Hauth, meanwhile, was charged with discreditable conduct and deceit charges under the Police Services Act as part of the commission’s investigation. Those charges were eventually dismissed after Hauth resigned just weeks before she was set to face a public tribunal early last year.

The Police Services Act charges alleged Hauth either knew about a criminal investigation the force had launched into a member of its own police board and, despite the conflict of interest, either condoned it or at least failed to immediately transfer it to the OPP, which eventually took over the probe. When the OPP did not charge the board member, Hauth allegedly tried to cover up her knowledge of the force’s initial investigation in a report to the board, according to tribunal documents.

As the commission carried out its investigation, it appointed lawyer Malcolm Mercer in April 2022 as administrator of the police board in a bid to try to restore order at the civilian oversight body.

In a report back to the OCPC in August of that year, Mercer wrote that in “assessing what led to the current situation, it is clear that much relates to the promotional competition in which Michael Dimini was successful.”

His report notes the situation had led to an “unacceptable delay” and “insufficient attention” to the recommendations and policy implications of reports documenting systemic racism in the force.

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