• By: Dan Donovan

Ottawa Police Service — Sheep in sheep’s clothing

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) has received multiple complaints about harassment and misogyny against female officers and employees on the force for over a decade. On July 8, 2020 Ottawa police officer Carl Keenan was found guilty in a Gatineau court of assault causing bodily harm in relation to an incident in 2017 while he was off duty. Keenan was charged by MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais police following an assault in a yurt in Gatineau Park on December 14, 2017. The victim was a woman with whom Keenan was romantically involved. Although suspended for the violent assault, Keenan has continued to receive full pay and benefits compliments of Ottawa taxpayers since he was charged. He earned more than $109,000 in 2017 and had been listed on the annual ‘Sunshine list’ when criminally charged.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS), with the full support of the OPSB issued a news release five days after Keenan’s arrest calling it a “domestic matter”. At the time they refused to name Keenan apparently ‘to protect the identity of the victim’. Then, using their best hyperbolic tools they threw in this gem — “The Ottawa Police Service does not tolerate sexual violence [or] harassment in our workplace and takes all matters seriously.”

According to court records and the comments from the judge, Keenan, and the woman, both intoxicated, got into a dispute after Keenan accused her of being unfaithful. There was an altercation and Keenan pushed the woman forcefully against a metal bed frame and she hit her head and became unconscious. There is video of the incident that was captured on the woman’s cellphone. In an attempt to revive the woman, Keenan slapped her and applied pressure to her sternum. After the woman regained consciousness, Keenan hit her again.

Incredibly, Keenan remains under an ‘internal OPS investigation’ after at least two rookie officers he was assigned to mentor as a ‘coach officer’ complained to OPS management that they were victims of sexual harassment by Keenan. (Before new police recruits can respond to calls on their own, they must spend 500 hours on patrol under the supervision of a coach officer). Keenan is expected to be sentenced in August. The OPSB never once called for Keenan to be suspended without pay. Even after being convicted they did not demand his immediate termination.

The Keenan conviction follows a June 18, 2020 story by Post Media that a female Ottawa Police constable was allegedly raped by a fellow officer, in 2012. The alleged rapist is still on duty with the OPS. Like the Keenan assault, the report of the alleged rape was suppressed by both the OPS and OPSB and kept ‘internal’.

The alleged rape report follows the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) charges against Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Uday Jaswal on March 13, 2020 for several sexual misconduct offenses, including sexual harassment and assault of a civilian employee of the Ottawa Police Service. Despite the seriousness of the charges, it took the OPSB ten days to remove Jaswal as deputy chief. Under the Police Services Act, (S-152 ss (9) a police service board may apply to the tribunal to hold a hearing respecting the demotion or termination of employment of a chief of police or deputy chief of police of a police service maintained by the police services board.

Neither Chief Sloly or OPSB Acting Chair Sandy Smallwood demanded his immediate suspension without pay and Jaswal, like Keenan, continues receiving his full pay and benefits. The OPSB blamed the 10-day delay on COVID-19. Apparently, they are not capable of doing a Zoom call.

The OPSB suspension of Jaswal made mention of the board’s commitment to ensure “a positive and harassment-free workplace for its members” and added that the board was “committed to maintaining trust and confidence in the integrity of the Ottawa Police Service, in the eyes of the public and of (its) members.” Days later, the OCPC laid its sixth disciplinary charge against Jaswal. In total, he stands charged with three counts of insubordination and three counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act for allegedly sexually harassing two female Ottawa police officers and allegedly sexually harassing and assaulting a civilian employee.

The allegations against him span 11 years. Paul Champ, the lawyer representing the first complainant who came forward, said that “the new allegations against Jaswal suggest there is a pattern to this behaviour.” He said that the most recent allegation, which dates to 2008, shows that “the constable was fearful of coming forward for so long.” None of the allegations against Jaswal have yet been tested. It is not known if Jaswal was involved in any ‘internal investigation’ regarding the constable who alleges she was raped by a superior, or what Jaswal’s relationship is with the constable who is alleged to have committed the rape, if any.

After Jaswal was charged it was leaked to the media that numerous other OPS female constables had experienced years of criminal sexual harassment by male colleagues yet were afraid to come forward for fear it would negatively impact their careers or jobs within the service. Despite this, OPS Police Chief Peter Sloly refused at first to detail the numbers.

After more media reports and complaints, Sloly was forced to disclose  that fourteen more women working for the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) had come forward to report that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by male officers in the past three years and that since 2018, the OPS has launched ‘internal investigations’ into two reports of sexual assault committed by members and six reports of sexual harassment. (During part of this period, the Uday Jaswal was the Ottawa Police Deputy Chief).   

In his report to the OPSB Chief Sloly said, “I am willing to consider anything, including heavier penalties and more direct punishment, against those who continue to willfully ignore and flout the rules and oath of office,” but in the next breath he claimed he’s “learned that heavier punishment doesn't always solve the problem” and will also try “other tools such as mediation, restoration and truth and reconciliation” depending on the circumstances.

Sloly refused to say what discipline, if any, the officers faced or if the women involved are still working within the organization. He acknowledged that it’s likely there are many other incidents of sexual misconduct by officers against other OPS employees that have gone unreported.

It is not known if the constable who is claiming she was allegedly raped by her superior is one of the 14 new cases as reported by Chief Sloly. Sloly has not disclosed when he first learned of the alleged rape and who at the OPS told him. He has not disclosed if the officer accused of the alleged rape has been suspended. He has not clarified why he believes allegations of rape at the OPS are an ‘internal human resources matter’.

The rape and sexual misconduct at the OPS by OPS officers are a criminal matter that require an independent police force to investigate. Sloly and the OPSB have not explained why when someone is raped in their organization they believe they can have the people who are potentially involved in the cover-up of the alleged rape and sexual misconduct, do the actual investigation.

When learning of these incidents as reported by the chief, the OPSB are required to call for an outside police force to investigate. This is especially important given that a separate OCPC complaint has already been filed against Chief Sloly and the OPS in March 2020. An OPS officer with an unblemished disciplinary record during his twenty-year career claims he had complained to his superiors at OPS about the misogyny and harassment his spouse (also an OPS constable) is alleged to have faced from Deputy Chief Jaswal and says that as soon as his wife filed the complaint, he became the target of retaliation including improper demotion and suspension of pay by OPS Chief Peter Sloly.

Sloly also declared that unless women outside the police service were impacted, the names of the officers found guilty of wrongdoing against female counterparts should not be identified because, “it’s an internal matter.”

Chief Sloly’s refusal to call for an independent third party to investigate the matter “shows a remarkable lack of judgment and accountability when it comes to these misogynistic and egregious acts by some of his officers”, says Darryl Davies, professor of criminology at Carleton University and a recognized national expert on police and police misconduct matters.

Davies has been called as an expert witness at police trials and discoveries going back two decades. Davies adds that “the OPSB should have immediately ordered Sloly to call for an outside police force to investigate as soon as he made them aware of the additional fourteen cases of criminal sexual harassment at the OPS. They should have done this to protect both the victims and the credibility of the force. That they don’t understand this basic principle -— especially after the Jaswal charges is truly remarkable.”

Instead the OPSB rubber-stamped Sloly’s plan to keep the matter internal. He directed acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna to create a program ‘to encourage female officers to come forward with complaints without fear of reprisal’. In what was probably the biggest understatement or slap down of the year, McKenna herself admitted that “complainants may be reluctant to come forward to another officer at the OPS”.  

Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) has called for an independent investigator saying “Survivors within the OPS have few places to turn for support — sexual harassment, violence, and its trauma has significant and far-reaching consequences regardless of the perpetrator, but can be deeply compounded when perpetrators hold institutional power and public authority.”

Darryl Davies goes further saying, Sloly’s handling of the matter shows a complete insensitivity to the victims and speaks to his ego and temperament. “I don’t understand it. Even the deputy chief is basically saying she thinks his plan is a joke. It is pretty easy to see that as a new person at the OPS, Chief Sloly would have no way of knowing if the OPS officers investigating the matter were themselves involved in the harassment”.

Davies says that although Sloly has only been on the job for eight months his judgement and temperament so early in the job are worrisome. “In essence we have the chief of the OPS telling citizens that criminal sexual offenses committed by his officers against other officers on the force are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us.” 

Davies says he had hoped a year ago that Sloly’s hiring would bring the real changes the OPS needed. “I knew he had been passed over previously for the job in Ottawa and also passed over for the role of Chief of Police in Toronto in 2016”, says Davies. “Maybe now we are getting a glimpse of why.”

Temperament and judgment were at play with the new chief’s response to a May 2020 incident at the OPS. A racialized meme believed to be directed at Sloly was sent out by officers within the OPS. The image shows a composite photo of 13 current or former officers, the majority of whom are minorities. In it, the words “Ottawa Police Service” appears above the photograph with “We’re always hiring . . .  anyone” appearing below. The faces in the meme include black, Middle Eastern, Asian, white, and South Asian officers.

Twelve of the 13 people shown in the meme have either been accused or convicted of some form of misconduct, and 11 of the 13 officers have faced either criminal or disciplinary charges, however the meme does not note this. It also leaves out the faces of the other 55 OPS white officers who have been charged in the past six years with similar offences or worse.

The meme was distributed after the RCMP announced corruption-related charges against three other OPS officers in late April for allegedly selling collision information to tow truck operators. Those OPS officers, along with three civilians, are allegedly part of a kickback scheme. The RCMP also charged one of the officers and a civilian with conspiring to carry out an ATM heist.

Chief Sloly was rightly upset about the meme. He condemned it publicly and at a virtual OPSB meeting on April 27, calling it “disgusting” and an “overt act of racism” that was targeting racialized officers in the service. Sloly did not address the criminality or misconduct of any of the officers in the meme who have been previously charged or the criminality of an additional 50 plus white OPS officers not shown in the meme who have also been previously charged. (Over 70 OPS officers have been criminally charged in the past five years and none have been fired). For him, the meme was about one thing. Racism.

Sloly launched a sprawling internal investigation by the police’s professional standards unit to find out who created and distributed the meme. They spared no expense and scrutinized actions and interviewed more than 100 officers from patrol to investigative sections questioning them about the meme’s origins to determine who shared it. On May 15th Ottawa police drug Detective James Ramsay, a minority Indigenous person of Algonquin heritage, was suspended, but not charged, for allegedly making a racist meme of his fellow officers. Ottawa Police Association (OPA) President Matt Skof told the Ottawa Sun that the investigation unfolded with “interference from the chief’s office” and that Ramsay was “very disappointed” when Sloly declared the meme racist. Skof said Ramsay is contemplating a human rights complaint against the organization and Sloly himself.

Matt Skof’s credibility to speak on behalf of any police or police matters is highly in doubt. Skof was charged in January 2019 by the Ontario Provincial Police with breach of trust and obstructing justice under the Criminal Code of Canada and is currently suspended with full and benefits until the case goes before the courts. Despite this, he has refused to step down as president of the OPA and it appears that constables in the OPA have no issue being led by a person who has been criminally charged.

On June 19, 2020 the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition called for the immediate termination of Skof for allegedly calling a female member of the Coalition a “fucking cunt” in relation to her interaction with the OPS members in the immediate aftermath of Abdirahman Abdi’s death in July 2016.(OPS Constable Daniel Montsion is charged with manslaughter in the brutal and vicious beating of Abdi.) 

OPS officers have long been accused of being prejudiced towards local Indigenous people. In February 2020, two Ottawa police officers were cleared by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in the shooting death of Greg Ritchie, 30, an Indigenous man from the Saugeen First Nation.

The SIU is an independent agency that investigates incidents involving police where someone is sexually assaulted, injured or killed. On January 30, 2019 at 8 a.m. Ritchie was shot and killed during an encounter with constables Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette outside a drugstore at Elmvale acres. His family says he  struggled with mental illness and was heading to a pharmacy to pick up medication when the altercation happened.

According to the SIU report, the first officer fired “two, and possibly three” shots at Ritchie while the second officer fired “seven, and possibly eight” times. Ritchie was hit by three bullets, handcuffed, and taken by paramedics to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. A post-mortem examination determined the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest, the report said.

A few days after his death, Ottawa residents gathered outside the police force’s Elgin Street headquarters and held a spirit walk to honour Ritchie, described by family members as a gentle man proud of his Ojibway heritage. His brother, Nicholas, called for better mental health training for police officers.

The SIU report proved controversial because neither Tran provided their notes or agreed to be interviewed as part of the SIU investigation, which is their legal right. Additional concerns were raised because Const. Thanh Tran was previously acquitted of assault causing bodily harm for a controversial 2011 incident involving a homeless man. Chief Sloly and the OPSB did not respond to allegations of racism made by Ritchie’s family at the time of the report.

However, when the misconduct is directed at the chief personally his response, with the full support of the OPSB, was to create a whole new branch at OPS and launch an investigation, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, to weed out both the person and the misconduct. Yet, when cases involving clear misconduct by OPS officers towards citizens are brought to their attention, they are summarily ignored or dismissed.  

Misconduct by three OPS police officers towards Rodney Mockler is a case in point. Mockler is an Ottawa resident with HIV whose life was destroyed because of an improper OPS arrest and charges. When the matter was brought to Sloly’s attention by Ottawa Life Magazine, it was met with a dismissive rebuke. Not satisfied, Chief Sloly was advised in an email from Ottawa Life Magazine that it would continue to push for answers in the matter, including bringing it up with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Sloly’s response was to send an email saying, ‘Good for you.” The petulant and patronizing comment coming from the Chief of the OPS showed a careless disregard and complete lack of concern for the misconduct heaped on Mockler by OPS officers.

The full Mockler story was published in Ottawa Life Magazine in February 2020 and was picked up by other local news and on social media. The story showed how Mockler was wrongly charged by OPS Constable Patrick Lafreniere. Editor’s note: There are two people named Patrick Lafreniere who are associated with the Ottawa Police Service. Patrick R. Lafreniere retired from the OPS in 2018 and is not the person being referred to in this incident.

The officer involved in the misconduct was Constable Patrick Lafreniere (not Constable Patrick R. Lafreniere). Lafreniere would later try to change evidence and coerce witnesses to change their statements. Then he didn’t show up to testify in court as required. His actions were in violation of the Ontario Police Services Act.

The case was thrown out but in the interim the charges ruined Mockler’s life. He lost his job and had financial problems as a result. After media coverage of the case, the OPSB, under local media pressure, requested the OPS look further into the matter and provide answers on the charges made in the OLM story.

On April 27, OPS Superintendent Robert Drummond submitted a short (two-page) untruthful whitewash of a report on the Rodney Mockler matter to the OPSB, which completely exonerated the officers. It misrepresented the facts of the case to the OPSB to exonerate the misconduct of three Ottawa Police officers who acted outside of the rules of Ontario Police Services Act, and summarily dismissed the findings of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) who found the Ottawa Police deficient in their investigation of Mockler.

The OIPRD is an arm’s-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and makes decisions independently of the police, the government, and the public. It is responsible for receiving, managing, and overseeing all public complaints about municipal, regional, and provincial police in Ontario. As an independent civilian oversight agency, the agency ensures that public complaints about police are dealt with in a manner that is transparent, effective, and fair to both the public and the police.

In his report, Superintendent Drummond completely absolves the concerns raised by OIPRD as if they have no authority in holding the OPS to account by simply writing that he ‘investigated it and doesn’t agree’. The arrogance of the statement is astounding. Drummond claims he interviewed the officers involved in the case and ‘his analysis and findings did not change the original OPS conclusion of the investigation’. He does not account or explain why the officers fabricated evidence, doctored, and rewrote witness statements and were no shows in court to testify which led to the case being thrown out.

It should be noted that when Rodney Mockler made his first public complaint on February 12, 2018 alleging that he was falsely accused of criminal offences and had not received disclosure of the evidence against him, he referenced the fact that he had called the Ottawa Police Service 16 times without a call back and went to the OPS station on Elgin 47 times in the months leading up to his trial.

Drummond does not address why no one called Mockler back even after 16 calls or why he could not connect with anyone at the OPS after 47 visits. This was also not addressed by Chief Sloly. Despite the evidence, despite the OIPRD report and despite Mr. Mockler’s case being dismissed in court, Superintendent Drummond’s ‘report’ to the OPSB completely cleared the officers despite substantial and proven evidence of serious misconduct.

In one particularly noxious nose stretcher, Drummond writes, “We continually work with the OIPRD to identify process improvements and to ensure that investigations are done in a manner that is consistent with legislative standards and ensure public trust in policing service. Part of that process includes the review process and the OPS participated in that review and conducted the OIPRD directed remedies”.

It is classic Orwellian doublespeak, both false and misleading. More distressing is that not one member of OPSB questioned the veracity of Drummond’s ‘investigation’ or held him to account for the fabrications, lies and contradictions in his report. It is OPS policy that reports are given to the Chief before going to the OPSB. Misleading a Police Services Board any other Board in an investigation is a criminal offense under the Ontario Police Services Act.

Misconduct by officers in the Ottawa Police Service have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in settlement fees over the past several years. As officers continue to break the law without consequence, the city via the OPS and OPSB budgets continue to pay for their legal fees in settlement cases and pay the victims lawyers costs, plus the actual settlement costs. The OPSB  will not disclose the exact amount of taxpayers money they have paid out in ‘star chamber’ style secret settlements to victims as compensation and for legal fees for victims lawyers and legal fees for the police involved in misconduct. However, a tally by OLM of just some of the cases over the past seven years shows it is more than $13 million.

There are currently at least 13 OPS officers on suspension with full salaries and benefits who have been either criminally charged or involved in serious misconduct. This is costing the city at least $2 million per year. 

Requests for the release of all OPSB information regarding all legal fees and settlement fees they have paid to victims of police misconduct and to pay for lawyers representing police involved in misconduct continues to be ignored.

Ottawa Life Magazine has made these requests for the past several years to former OPSB Chairs Diane Deans, Eli El Chantiry and current Acting OPSB Chair Sandy Smallwood