Chief Stubbs Pushes Change Despite Police Service Board Woes 

As the calendar year comes to a close, the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) met for the final time in 2023. The acting chair, provincially appointed representative Salim Fakirani, led the meeting, stepping in for recently departed Dr. Gail Beck, a Royal Ottawa Mental Health physician who was part of an effort by the new OPSB to clean up the image of the body that governs the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).

Dr. Beck’s failure to launch was rather immediate. In her debut meeting in April 2023, technical difficulties saw her mute for the entire session. However, rather than due to a political faux pas or mismanagement, Dr. Beck’s departure involves a conflict of interest and alleged criminality by a family member.

Earlier in the month, the OPS reported a large narcotic bust, one involving 40 kilos of cocaine with a street value of $4.5 million. Dr. Beck’s son was arrested during this operation. After posting a bond for his bail, her hand was forced, and she resigned. This latest bizarre development makes the OPSB appear to have a revolving door. The board has been working to reinvent itself after the disastrous handling of the “Freedom Convoy” protests, which resulted in the firing of then-Chair Dianne Deans and the resignations of Chief Peter Sloly and Councillor Rawlson King.

The OPSB rebuilding effort put forward a more reserved face under new Police Chief Eric Stubbs, Board Chair Dr. Beck, and Councillors Marty Carr and Cathy Curry, but the results to date have been suboptimal. Asking for more funds to continue the same style of policing has led to a palpable feeling of unease as certain councillors of the progressive bent, like Ariel Troster, who voted against the policies along with Jeff Lieper, Jessica Bradley, Sean Devine, Theresa Kavanaugh and surprisingly the Conservative-leaning Matthew Luloff. This break demonstrates that the decisions being made are unpopular across the breadth of Ottawa’s narrow political spectrum.

The OPSB also severely repressed its delegation system in the last year under new By-Laws that limit who can be a delegate to the board while also requiring statements to be pre-submitted and pushing delegates who previously participated to the back of the queue, which activists like Horizon Ottawa’s Sam Hersh labelled a “punishment for activism.”

The main story around the Ottawa Police Service has been the approval of a new police facility at the Rideau Centre, supposedly to beef up the police presence in the increasingly violent area of the city. Yet the new ByWard Market station will likely not be open to the public for at least another year and will serve as nothing more than a meeting space for the cops working in the area.

Stubbs said it may not open to the public until 2025, emphasizing that the new facility has to be “Done right.” The decision hasn’t made the activists on the left happy, who want a community response to addiction and crime, while others view it as being substantive but not a solution to the woes of the area. If nothing else, the project is a first step that will hopefully one day contribute to dealing with the palpable level of seediness that has taken over the streets of the downtown core.

With this disastrous year almost over, Chief Eric Stubbs addressed the board, telling the public meeting that despite the perceptions in the last six months, actions are being taken. The chief said the OPS had partnered with 18 agencies to see how they can positively impact the vulnerable populations in the area.

Stubbs spoke about the Market Safe initiative, which includes strategies like having officers in the bar district to quell violence and ensure no more shootings in the area. Stubbs also noted the success of the enforcement campaign in November that targeted drug traffickers.

While Stubbs looks set to try to end the year on a high note, he is dealing with the legacy of the Watson era: a police service board that appears volatile, reinforced by Dr. Beck’s exit from the committee.

In February 2023, the city’s Auditor General, Nathalie Gougeon, stated in her report on the conduct of the OPSB during the convoy that “new (OPSB) members are being appointed without identifying and seeking the attributes necessary to govern a police service.” Gougeon advised the city to train OPSB members so they could be “effective in discharging their responsibilities.”

The continued problems with the OPSB highlight an issue with the governance of the City of Ottawa as a whole. The year-old Sutcliffe administration has given so much power to boards and committees to run the day-to-day governance of the city that when there is a failure at the board level, it directly affects the policies that Council adopts.

Despite a vision and determination to get the work done to improve Ottawa’s streets, Chief Stubbs has only one OPSB vote. Hopefully, the New Year will see the appointment of a new chair, a credible candidate who is properly trained and will stick around until the end of their term.

OLM file photo