The mayor of Thunder Bay, Ontario is facing charges of extortion and obstruction of justice, amid scandal and tension in the northern Ontario city.
Mayor Keith Hobbs was charged by the Ontario Provincial Police on Friday, alongside his partner Marisa Hobbs and a second woman.
The charges allege that the mayor attempted to pressure Sandy Zaitzeff, a local Thunder Bay lawyer — who is himself facing charges for sexual assault — into purchasing a house by using “threats, accusations, or menaces of disclosing criminal allegations to the police.”
The charge sheet goes on to allege that both the mayor and Marisa Hobbs interfered into the RCMP investigation into the matter.
Marisa, in a 2014 news report from TBNewsWatch, was described as his “fiancee and office manager.”
“We are aware we have issues.”
The whole scheme, as laid out by the provincial police, was centered around buying a house for a woman named Mary Voss, who is also named on the charge sheet.
At a press conference on Friday morning, the city announced that Hobbs wouldn’t be resigning — although he would take a 90 day leave. Officials insisted that his arrest had nothing to do with city business, according to TVO reporter Jon Thompson. Hobbs, however, had already announced his intention not to seek a second term as mayor.
The mayor’s charges come just two months after Thunder Bay Police Chief J. P. Levesque was himself arrested for breach of trust over allegations that he leaked sensitive information concerning Hobbs.
The tangled web of accusations and alleged wrongdoing come at a particularly bad time for the city, as its Indigenous population raises the alarm over systemic racism in the community.
Barbara Kentner, an Indigenous woman, died this month after being hit with a trailer hitch, thrown by a white resident, that caused damage to her kidney. Police have yet to upgrade initial charges of assault in that case. While it dragged the issue of racism in the community to the forefront, it was not the only incident. Locals pointed to the discomforting trend of First Nations youth living in the city winding up dead in the city’s waterways. Locals have been openly wondering if the police have taken those deaths seriously enough.
The police have pushed back, insisting they’ve investigated the deaths thoroughly. In the process, they’ve refused to led the RCMP take over the investigations.
Hobbs, meanwhile, has rejected the idea that there is a particular problem with racism in the community and has grown openly frustrated with the media.
Councillor Trevor Giertuga, who will serve as acting mayor while Hobbs is on leave, was asked on Friday whether Thunder Bay is facing a crisis.
“We are aware we have issues,” Giertuga told reporters. “This is unrelated.”