Fort William lawyer Celina Reitberger looks forward to bringing an Indigenous perspective to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board after being appointed as a representative of the Province of Ontario.

By Rick Garrick

Fort William’s Celina Reitberger, a lawyer and former executive director of Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation, was recently appointed to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB).

“I have been spending a lot of time advocating on behalf of people who have had difficulties with dealing with the police,” Reitberger says. “Because of my experiences, I think I am going to be able to present the issues that are facing Indigenous people in this community and hopefully it will open minds and hearts and we will begin the journey towards reconciliation.”

One of the initiatives Reitberger was involved with at NAN Legal was the If You’re Stopped By The Police card, which was developed to provide people with information about their rights.

“I think it is very important that we empower our people so that they know their rights, that they know that when they are stopped by the police it’s not a terrible imbalance of power,” Reitberger says. “I always told the people I talk to: ‘Ask for the badge number.’”

Reitberger was appointed to the TBPSB as a representative of the Province of Ontario. She replaces Allan Laakkonen, whose appointment expired earlier this year.

“I had contemplated making an application about three years ago, but because of my position with NAN Legal, it was thought to be a conflict,” Reitberger says. “Once I retired I realized I could make an application, so I did.”

Reitberger says she has received congratulations from all of the members of the TBPSB.

“Everybody seems to be very welcoming, which makes me happy,” Reitberger says. “I’m certainly looking forward to getting to know them better.”

Reitberger is a long-serving member of the Executive Committee on Aboriginal and Diversity Issues with the Thunder Bay Police Service and a new member of the Board of Directors for Anishnawbe Mushkiki.

“Ms. Reitberger is a proud member of Fort William First Nation and longtime resident of Thunder Bay,” says Jackie Dojack, chair of the TBPSB. “After 20 years in private practice as a lawyer, Ms. Reitberger joined Nishnawbe Aski Nation Legal for 15 years, the last seven as its executive director until her retirement. During her time with NAN Legal, Ms. Reitberger led the Restorative Justice Program and Talking Together, in support of Child Welfare.”

Reitberger is scheduled to take her Oath of Office and to participate in her first meeting of the TBPSB on Dec. 19.

“I welcome the opportunity to serve on the board, bringing the perspective of Indigenous people and their experiences in interacting with police,” Reitberger says. “My goal is to work towards improving relationships among the service, the board and the Indigenous community as we further our common goal of reconciliation.”

Reitberger also looks forward to sharing information she has learned about cultural awareness training with other members of the TBPSB.

“I hope I can bring a new perspective, a perspective that will be appreciated and respected,” Reitberger says. “I am very proud that I got through the process. It was quite stringent and I am looking forward to making a difference.”

Reitberger says one of the changes she will have to make as a TBPSB member is to step back from advocating for people who are having issues with the police.

“So I am stepping back from that role and I am hoping others will step forward,” Reitberger says. “There is lots of new young talent from the (Lakehead University Bora Laskin Faculty of Law) and a lot of people who are willing to take up the cause.”