The mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont., was charged with extortion and obstructing justice Friday, almost two months after the northern Ontario city's police chief was arrested in the same case.
Ontario Provincial Police said Keith Hobbs, 65, was charged in connection with an investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing that include a municipal official and a local resident.
Hobbs' wife, Marisa Hobbs, 53, was also charged with extortion and obstructing justice. Police additionally charged Mary Voss, a 46-year-old Thunder Bay resident, with extortion, but officials would not say how she was connected to the other accused.
Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne explained that the charges were linked to breach of trust and obstructing justice charges laid against Thunder Bay police chief J.P. Levesque in May.
She said Levesque was charged shortly after police had launched an investigation into the mayor. She added that it was Levesque who called for the investigation.
"The investigation started and as a result of that, (J.P.) Levesque was charged and then these three people were charged," Dionne said.
The three accused are scheduled to appear in court Sept. 26.
These charges are unjustified and will be vigorously defended.
Keith Hobbs was an officer with the Thunder Bay police for 34 years before he entered municipal politics in 2010.
His lawyers, Brian Greenspan and Naomi Lutes, said Hobbs and his wife firmly denied the allegations against them.
"These charges are unjustified and will be vigorously defended," a statement from the lawyers said. "Mayor Hobbs and his wife are hopeful that the community will not prejudge these unproven charges and are grateful for the continued support of their many colleagues, family, and friends."
Mayor on leave
City officials said they would not be commenting about the case because the matter is before the courts.
But spokeswoman Karen Lewis said Hobbs would be taking a three-month leave of absence to deal with the legal matter and after that it would be in "council's hands" to determine the next steps.
"Council could extend the leave, the vacancy policy could kick in and then council has options around how to proceed around the vacancy policy," she said, adding they could declare the seat vacant.
Coun. Trevor Giertuga said he will serve as acting mayor for the rest of the month, then Coun. Linda Rydholm would take over for August and Coun. Joe Virdiramo would step in for September.
"We are aware that we have issues within the City of Thunder Bay, but we have a strong council and strong leadership working to confront those issues," Giertuga said. "But let's not lose sight that we are dealing with an issue today that is unrelated to city business or city issues."
City police also under scrutiny
The development in the case comes as Thunder Bay grapples with tensions between its police force and members of the Indigenous community.
In recent months, Ontario's chief coroner asked an outside police force to help investigate the deaths of two Indigenous teens in the city.
Dr. Dirk Huyer asked York Regional Police to get involved in the investigation of the deaths of 14-year-old Josiah Begg and 17-year-old Tammy Keeash, whose bodies were found in the McIntyre River.
But let's not lose sight that we are dealing with an issue today that is unrelated to city business or city issues.
First Nations leaders also met with federal and provincial officials last month to discuss concerns about the safety of young people in Thunder Bay.
In June, Statistics Canada reported that most of the police-reported hate incidents in Thunder Bay targeted Indigenous people, accounting for 29 per cent of all anti-Aboriginal hate crimes across Canada in 2015.
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