THUNDER BAY — Homicides related to the drug trade continue to give Thunder Bay a national reputation, says the city's acting police chief.
So far this year, there have been 13 homicides in the city, which is an all-time record.
"It's a disturbing statistic in Thunder Bay, especially this year," acting police chief Dan Taddeo said.
In a presentation at the Thunder Bay Police Services Board meeting on Tuesday, Taddeo noted that last year the city was only "decimal points" away from having the highest per capita murder rate among major Canadian cities. Thunder Bay had the worst homicide rate every year from 2016 to 2020.
"Clearly this year, we will be national news again," Taddeo said.
He made the prediction while asking for approval of a budget increase and more officers for the police service next year.
Drug trafficking and the opioid crisis continue to stress police resources.
Taddeo said Thunder Bay police investigate opioid-related deaths that are happening at a rate four times higher than elsewhere in Ontario.
He noted that six of the 13 local homicides to date are directly related to the illicit drug trade and individuals from the Greater Toronto Area, while others have what he described as "secondary links" to drug trafficking rings.
"None are random. They all are tied to the drug sub-culture," he said.
Taddeo said the scope of the problem requires a multi-disciplinary approach to curb trafficking and related issues facing the community, "but it has to be upstream, where we will be a partner and not necessarily the leader."
The acting chief pointed to the necessity of reducing the demand for illicit drugs by finding more ways to help those who are the customers of the suppliers.
"The only way that we stop the market share is to assist those with the addiction issues," he said.
'There is no other agency that is going to respond,' Taddeo says
But he cautioned that "until the provincial and federal government step in with upstream solutions to address the greater issue, at the end of the day we are left to respond to all of these issues. There is no other agency that is going to respond."
Taddeo highlighted another worrisome trend in local crime statistics this year — the rising domestic violence rate.
He said the rate basically equates to members of the Thunder Bay Police Service investigating almost 10 of these incidents every day.
Taddeo mentioned, as well, the challenges the police service faces in dealing with a high incidence of intoxication in the community and with mental health issues.
The jury at a recent inquest recommended that a safe sobering site be established in the city, something he called "an absolute necessity."
The acting chief also said the frequency of police interaction with individuals experiencing mental health challenges is related to the closure of the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital over 20 years ago, "because there really has been no solution in terms of long-term care."
"We deal with these people every single day," he said, adding that a report that lands on his desk every morning regularly shows "an inordinate amount of mental health calls for service."
Taddeo said officers are taken off the street and are required to remain at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre for extended periods when they take patients to the hospital under the Mental Health Act.
He acknowledged the success of a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, which pairs mental health workers with police officers, but said the program requires more funding to allow it to be expanded.
The new police budget includes money to add 22 more staff members, including 14 sworn officers, to the existing complement of 358 sworn and civilian staff.
Police board administrator Malcolm Mercer approved the net operating and capital budget (after government transfers) of $52 million, which is 7.2 per cent more than last year.
It will now be presented to Thunder Bay city council.