Auditor General gives report on Police Services Board conduct during “freedom convoy”

ABOVE: Auditor General for the City of Ottawa, Nathalie Gougeon, tabled her reports on February 9th at a special OPSB meeting.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) met on February 9th for a special meeting regarding the city auditor general’s report on the Ottawa Police Services' (OPS) response to the “freedom convoy.” The city’s Auditor General, Nathalie Gougeon, summarized the report, which was focused exclusively on the role and activities of the OPSB during the convoy protest.

Gougeon reviewed the roles and responsibilities of the OPSB as per the provincial Police Services Act. She pointed out that members of the OPSB are responsible for overseeing adequate and effective policing in the municipality and that the OPSB cannot direct the Chief of Police in the day-to-day operations but can give direction to the chief. The auditor general restated that the purpose of the audit was to assess whether the OPSB undertook all “necessary and appropriate actions” leading up to and during the protest to ensure it met its mandate.

Gougeon found that the board was not notified of the protest in a timely manner as per the city's major events policy. In addition, a consultation on objectives and priorities did not occur before the protest, and the board was not provided with the information to effectively perform its oversight duties until near the end of the protest.

After Peter Slolly resigned as chief of the Ottawa Police Service, Gougeon found that the hiring of an interim chief was not a transparent process. It also found that former OPSB chair Diane Deans did not disseminate needed information to other members of the board. According to Gougeon, the OPSB did not have a process to formally assess the sitting members' skills and expertise against their mandate's established needs. She concluded that orientation and training for sitting on the board could be improved.

Deputy Auditor General Joanne Gorenstein reinforced the problem with the appointments stating that “new members are being appointed without identifying and seeking the attributes necessary to govern a police service.” Gorenstein said that selected members might be “more challenged” in taking on the role.

Furthermore, Gorenstein noted that there was no mandated training for board members and that members are expected to have varying knowledge of areas including community safety, law enforcement, labour relations, and civilian oversight. As a result of this lack of training, members may not be “effective in discharging their responsibilities.”

According to Gorenstein, having a city councillor perform the duty of OPSB chair can lead to conflicting responsibilities as both jobs require a considerable amount of time to perform properly. The Deputy Auditor General suggests looking at the Toronto Police Services Board, which has a full-time dedicated chair to oversee the effective governance of the police service.

During the protest, the OPSB met several times without announcing it publicly or releasing an agenda, which is a break in protocol. Furthermore, the city Solicitor General was present at closed-door meetings while also providing feedback to the city on motions affecting the board's composition. The office of the Auditor General views these actions as a conflict of interest.

The report concluded that the Board did not understand its role in relation to the protest, and the OPS did not provide adequate information to the OPSB, which impacted its ability to make timely decisions. Meaningful consultation on objectives also did not take place. On top of it all, the board contravened legislative rules governing how the OPSB operates.

OPSB members Councillor Cathy Curry and provincial representative Salim Fakirini expressed concern that the report gives the impression that Ottawa City Council influences the OPSB. Gougeon reaffirmed that Council appoints three members to the OPSB, and the board picks the chair, but it is a separate body from the Council. However, Council can vote to remove the sitting members they appointed (other councillors) from the board. When Diane Deans was voted off the board after losing the trust of Council, she could no longer continue as chair. City councillors participate in the OPSB at the discretion of Council.

The Auditor General also presented a report on the OPS response to the convoy. The OPS is a distinct organization run independently from the City of Ottawa. As such, the report could only focus on collaboration between the organizations. The auditor general found that the OPS did not consider Ottawa’s Emergency Management department, a vital partner in the lead-up to the convoy. In addition, the OPS did not share intelligence with the city, which impacted the municipality’s ability to plan for the protest. The OPS also failed to collaborate with city resources in traffic management.

The auditor general's report is a damning indictment of the cooperation or lack thereof between law enforcement and the municipal government. However, with three new Council members and a new chief sitting on the OPSB, no heads will roll; instead, the report will serve as a guide for future governance of the OPS.