Ottawa Police Services Board: We’re Not Happy Until You’re Not Happy

By Valerie Findlay

Despite several complaints under the Police Services Act (PSA) lodged with the OCPC against the conduct of the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) Chair, Eli El-Chantiry and many more in the form of emails to the Attorney General and Minister Lalonde requesting investigation into the goings-on with the OPSB, no action has been taken.

Incidentally, these unrelated complaints were submitted by members of the public, sworn officers and the Ottawa Police Association (OPA), only to be brushed aside with a boiler plate email citing bureaucratic excuses that they could not interfere in "individual" circumstances.

A convenient means to side-step the ongoing issues of the OPSB, one cannot refute that public interest and individual circumstances inherently overlap. It is improbable that a complaint by a member of the public wouldn't emerge from an individual's personal experience. If a public complaint did not hinge on individual experience, a key factor for investigation would be missing – evidence, and without that there is no basis for a complaint.

That aside, this is the truth: the Police Services Act (PSA) is not the problem, at least not in Ottawa. In a recent article on the "modernization" of the PSA, El-Chantiry, who is also Chair of the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB) stated that "we simply cannot afford to wait another 25 years" with the dire warning, "before its too late".

Too late for what? Another piece of legislation to be twisted and frustrated by the unwilling and complicit? The PSA in its current state did not lack the legislative teeth in addressing many of the issues experienced in Ottawa – in fact, it was very rarely invoked.

In Ottawa, it is the OPSB and the Chair who are the collective problem, which may be the case in other Ontario cities. A clear, critical look – which seems to offend some – reveals that these inactions hinge on two things: electoral arson (timely make-work projects) and what preceded this, purposeful incompetence (legislative road-blocking).

"Modernizing' the PSA will not in any way, shape or form force the OPSB, or any other police service board, to actually administer it. And to sell the PSA as the causal factor in the issues in policing is shameful and misleading. Bluntly stated, this is an example of 'politics' in the most pejorative sense.

On top of that, while one cannot realistically expect that the people who created or perpetuated the problem to willingly fix it, one would expect that the bodies of oversight would be compelled to act. Should you disagree with those statements, let me remind you of some select OPSB marquis moments in recent years to where little or no action was taken, leaving the situation at OPS to worsen.

October 2017:

– In the past month, conduct of the Chair was called into question when emails were leaked to the media. These revealed that OPSB members were not informed by the Chair that a senior OPS member who was being promoted was under criminal investigation by the OPP. The OPSB members were patently in the dark and misled regarding the investigation, that was indeed criminal in nature. When confronted by the members in email, the Chair chose to generalize it as a "probe" even though he was well aware of the nature of the investigation long before the promotion of the officer was tabled.

– In the same period, an anonymized report emerged inside from the OPSB indicating some members were uncomfortable with city councillors making up the membership of the Board, charging "politicization" of Board decisions. This was undoubtedly directed toward the Chair due to the confrontation relating to the criminal investigation (Note: El-Chantiry has occupied the role of Chair on the OPSB for about a decade, is also a multiple-term city councillor and is chair of many other city committees).

– Also former tactical lead Ssgt. Marty Rukavina files a $3.35M lawsuit against Ottawa Police Service Board and several police employees for malicious prosecution, misfeasance in public office, deceit, civil conspiracy and infliction of mental suffering. The incidents centered on Rukavina exposing the internal business dealings of an OPS officer, who was reprimanded repeatedly without effect, that led to a "malicious campaign" against him resulting manufactured evidence to have him criminally charged in the 2014 training explosion. This is the same training explosion that injured five people in 2014 and is referenced in the OPP investigation of senior officers alleging disclosure and evidence tampering.

– A political bun fight ensues over an illegal injection site in Ottawa's Lowertown, where the Mayor, the Chief and apparently the OPSB all agreed needed to be shut down, but no one was willing to direct the order nor operationalize it. The Mayor refused to order the Chief and the Chair, the Chair refused to order the Chief and the Chief designated the city-owned site a No-Go zone for patrol according to the OPA. A clear contender in the Mannequin Challenge, the lack of movement was stunningly similar to recent tactics adopted during the harassment of abortion clinic employees by sidewalk protestors.

September 2017:

– In September, Chief Bordeleau submitted the 2018 OPS draft budget that strived to meet the two-percent cap imposed by the Mayor and city council to meet budgetary promises of their term. The draft budget had dire warnings: it is "not financially sound", it will "hit us like a ton of bricks down the road" and it holds substantial "risks". The Chair was quick to criticize the very cap he had voted for and supported years prior. So we're stuck with it. Hardly surprising nor unexpected, there was no commentary regarding the actions that were taken before this to direct and monitor the performance of the Chief to support continued budgetary concerns.

May 2017:

– Again charges of inconsistent standards for suspensions are made by the OPA toward the OPS Chief, citing favouritism and subjective punitive measures. Emerging from the refusal to suspend senior officers under OPP criminal investigation for allegedly changing evidence, the OPA charges that "no other problem compares with what may emerge from the OPP  investigation into these very serious claims against the chief's small circle of advisers".

– Numerous calls for the OPSB Chair to invoke sections of the PSA to deal with the above matter were discounted, with the Chair responding that "there is nothing to be done about complaints about inconsistencies when officers are suspended because the law allows for it". Found to be untrue, as the PSA allows for a number of options to be exercised by the OPSB in this case and  explicitly lays out the Responsibilities of the Board.

– The common denominator to most of the above was the letter of legal opinion that Ottawa lawyer Michael Edelson sent to the Chief and two Ontario cabinet ministers in May 2017, outlining criminal allegations against senior officers and a lawyer in the force's legal department. The evidence put forth in Edelson's letter is apparently directly lineated to the lawsuit erected by Ssgt. Marty Rukavina, noted above.

June 2017:

– Following successful collective bargaining, the Ottawa Police Association severs ties with the OPS police executive after what the OPA president describes as many months of "double-standards" and a relationship between the union and the police executive that is "unworkable". The Chair responded but was critical, rather than addressing the issues, and continued to deflect and shift blame.

Prior to 2016

One of the earliest red flags signifying trouble in the OPS was in 2015, when the force spoke out in the gender audit ordered by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Then, the OPS employee satisfaction survey revealed 45% of respondents were dissatisfied with leadership and 28% had 'no opinion'. Both being glaring signs, the OPSB again failed to acknowledge the discontent expressed by OPS employees, which was seconded by the OPSB Chair with his inexplicable silence and inaction.

With frustrations left unchecked, several members publicly voiced their dissatisfaction with the OPS executive and OPSB Chair and perceived inappropriateness of their activities. Forgetting or ignoring that a sizeable percentage of the OPS had already voiced their upset in the 2015 survey, the OPSB Chair El-Chantiry stated that "one or two discontented officers do not speak for the entire force".

Then making matters and morale worse, accusations of misconduct were pointed at the Chief in relation to his involvement in his father-in-law former Gloucester police chief Lester Thompson's, traffic ticket case. Again, the Chair refused to act, stating that he saw no reason to investigate the Chief. Only after intense public pressure did the OPSB order an investigation – an investigation that apparently failed to interview what were deemed key witnesses. The OCPC did find wrongdoing but did not recommend any sanctions.

At the same time, the OPA charges “a spectacular example of political hide-and-seek” in the OPSB's refusal to investigate whether the Chief misled the Board in convincing them to secure a private courthouse security contract. The union alleged that language in that report was misleading and that influential key approvals were secured when they were not. This resulted in a historic OPSB meeting where nearly 50 officers attended in silent protest of El-Chantiry’s continued leadership of the board.

It was also revealed that the OPSB circumvented the requirement for public transparency, holding at least three "secret committee meetings"  in 2016 and at least eight times in 2015, more than the number of public board meetings. According to a list of topics sent to the media, 15 different topics were discussed, including bias-neutral policing, a street check update, proposed amendments to the public rewards policy and policies on racial profiling – all issues whose decisions are of significance to public interest.

An Impenetrable Barrier to Reality Goes Up

Recently Mayor Watson emphatically espoused his "confidence" in the OPSB. This, despite several years of evidence of organizational dysfunction in the OPS … despite the OPA continually raising the concerns of its sworn members … despite increasing PTSD and long term disability claims and absenteeism in the OPS over the past decade … despite public complaints … despite budgetary and resourcing issues … despite escalating gang-related shootings and drug crimes that merely scratch the surface of the actual crime taking place … despite all of this, the Mayor remains confident in the OPSB.

Suffice to say, the effectiveness of police services in any Ontario city is directly correlated with the effectiveness of its police services board, a function that is of paramount importance for our communities. If anything, it is the oversight of police services boards and the qualifications of its members that should be "modernized".

The fact that legislation is "outdated" – much of our legislation is – is a poor excuse to not execute it on its existing merits and principles. While there are many sections of the PSA that should be improved, the OPSB has repeatedly failed to evoke any section that would administer fair and effective oversight of the OPS leadership and the delivery of police service to the public.

Legislation is meant to be broad and all encompassing to allow for the invocation of its regulations but it is also written under the presumption that those responsible for its execution are true to their oath and are committed to serve the public – not their own interests. The accepted framework of Canadian governance has always been first, legislation and policy and then regulations, processes and procedures. What makes these work together effectively is oversight.

Allowing our politicians to blame legislation for their ineffectiveness and the failings of police services overall, when it was their mandate to act and execute that legislation, is incomprehensible. The refusal to act or that actions were of self-interest, gives us the net situation that has been unfolding in Ottawa for years. Sadly, it is the job of the public to call out our officials when they are not meeting their mandates with the hope that responsive oversight will rise up … "before its too late".

Lastly, a personal message to those who have been (very creatively) attempting to quieten my efforts to gently encourage certain individuals to be more transparent and accountable: 1) stop it, you are only legitimizing my efforts, 2) it will take more than a dozen white roses, and 3) if you insist on continuing, next time, send someone smarter.