Police board signs off on changing Community Safety Plan in wake of shooting
November 7, 2023 By Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Nov. 7, 2023, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. – The Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to integrate the term “intimate partner violence” into the city’s Community Safety and Well-Being Plan.
This resolution was passed just over a week after Bob Thomas Hallaert committed a mass shooting in the community that left five people dead (including himself) and one person wounded.
Police described the incident as “the result of intimate partner violence,” with Hallaert’s victims including his ex-wife (who was wounded) and three children (who were killed).
In response to the shooting, different members of the community have attempted to publicly draw attention to the prevalence of domestic violence and gender-based violence in the Algoma District.
On Monday, Sault Ste. Marie city council voted unanimously to declare intimate partner violence an “epidemic,” while also recommending that the term be added to the Municipal Community Safety and Well-Being Plan.
This plan was created in early 2021, through the Police Services Act, to “mitigate immediate social risks that lead to crime and that negatively impact a community member’s well-being and ability to have a healthy quality of life.”
The document features a compilation of evidence-based interventions designed to help people suffering from poverty, substance abuse and/or severe mental health issues.
Tuesday’s resolution from the police board ensures that intimate partner violence interventions will be added to this list, falling in line with one of the 86 recommendations laid out in last year’s Renfrew County Inquest.
Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson hopes the increased spotlight on intimate partner violence will lead to more local research funding and result in more effective ways of dealing with this problem.
“We all know that we have to do more. We have to do more as a society, not one individual institution but all of us,” Stevenson said during Tuesday’s police board meeting.
“I look forward to where this goes and I appreciate councillor and board member Marchy Bruni for bringing it to the table so that we can elevate it within our health and safety plan.”
Outside of Tuesday’s resolution, Stevenson said he’s been working behind the scenes to raise the issue of intimate partner violence province-wide, specifically through his status as the director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (Zone 1A).
During an OACP meeting in September, Stevenson and North Bay Police Service Chief Scott Tod put some material together to help the association lobby the provincial government to designate intimate partner violence an “epidemic.”
However, Stevenson admits that some changes will need to be made from within his own police department in terms of their response to domestic violence calls.
This is especially true following the revelation that Hallaert had been the subject of “intimate partner investigations” by the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service before last week’s mass shooting took place.
While Stevenson wouldn’t go into specific details, he told the media following Tuesday’s board meeting that it would be “unreasonable for any chief to go through what we did and not re-examine everything.”
Stevenson is most-likely going to spearhead or sign off on any major departmental changes over the next little while, given that the police board used Tuesday’s meeting to announce the renewal of his contract for the next five years.
Stevenson thanked the board for their continued confidence in his leadership, having originally taken on the position of SSMPC chief in 2018 following an over three-decade career in law enforcement.
“We have a very solid command team in this service and we have had a lot of challenges over the last six months,” he said.
“But it’s due to the connectivity, direction and professionalism of my command team that allows us to get where we need to be, now and into the future.”
– The Sault Star
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