• By: Dan Donovan

Oversight and temperament problems at Ottawa Police Service

Above: Ottawa Police Chief, Peter Sloly

I am not sure which is more troubling, the ongoing failure of the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) to properly adjudicate their responsibilities over the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) or the continuing systemic and structural problems at the force. These include flawed leadership, racism, misogyny, poor training, multiple disciplinary issues, insubordination, criminality by constables and superintendent’s and overall low morale.

The police serve an important role in society and it is critical that citizens have faith in their integrity, honesty, competency and commitment to treating all citizens equally and with respect under the law. When police do the opposite or abuse their position of trust, they must be held accountable. If they commit criminal acts while on the job, they should be fired. If they are charged with a crime while on the job, they should be given a chance to clear their name in a legal process, but if convicted they should be fired. If there are no consequences for police misconduct the entire legal process comes into doubt and society pays the price.

If you want to fix a problem in a damaged organization there must be clear rules and consequences. Most importantly there must be leadership. The NHL Board of Governors have made it clear they were not going to accept bullying or any type of misogynistic behaviour by coaches, players or others employed with the league. The league has a charter of conduct they expect everyone to follow. When bullying cases came to light last fall, coaches were fired. When screenshots of offensive and misogynistic comments by Washington Capitals player Bredan Leipsic were leaked online last week and proven to be true, his contract was immediately terminated. The message was clear — there is zero tolerance for misogyny and bad behaviour. Misconduct has consequences. Period. At the OPS it is the exact opposite. No consequences for boorish or even criminal conduct and in many cases those guilty of it have been promoted and had pay increases.

In Ottawa, the group responsible for adjudicating police behaviour, standards and oversight are the OPSB through powers exercised under the Ontario Police Services Act. Glenn Christie is a lawyer (Hicks Morley) and recognized expert in providing advice to Police Services Boards on a wide variety of issues, including Police Services Act prosecutions. He says that "This (independence) is a significant and unqualified commitment imposing on board members a responsibility to conduct themselves with the utmost circumspection and prudence and with the highest levels of honesty and integrity. The role of a board member is partly to de-escalate tensions related to policing," says Christie.

For over 15 years the OPSB have demonstrated a complete inability to properly adjudicate matters related to police misconduct and criminality in the OPS. They are in large part responsible for the cancerous conduct and strife within the organization today.

The OPSB record of failure is not one of conjecture, but of fact. How can it be that of the more than 75 Ottawa police constables criminally charged with various offences since 2005, that not one has been fired. The former Chair of the OPSB Eli-El-Chantiry was personal friends with the former Chief Vern White. He even attended White’s wedding in Finland at a time when OPS officers were under the microscope for the brutal and violent police jailhouse beating of Stacy Bonds. The OPSB would later have to settle a civil suit with Bonds and pay her legal costs. None of the officers who assaulted her were fired. The only losers were taxpayers who paid the massive settlement for the bad behaviour.

As a result of OPSB inaction and impotency, OPS misconduct continues and is even emboldened. I’ve often wondered if Abdi Abdirahman might still be alive today or if the two policemen who so viciously beat him to death, on a sunny Sunday morning outside his home in July 2016, would have acted differently if the OPSB had only done their job and responded with firmness to the multiple cases of police misconduct that they excused or ignored in the decade leading up to his death. If those OPS officers knew there would be serious consequences for the type of behaviour they exhibited the day they needlessly killed Abdirahman it is hard to see how they would have proceeded with such a senseless act. Professionally trained and supervised officers would have been more focused on following procedures and de-escalation techniques.

Because of OPSB oversight failures, the OPS face next to no consequences for officer misconduct and Ottawa residents, especially those in the minority community, are turning increasingly hostile towards a police service whose motto is COMMUNITY SERVICE.

The OPSB has great power if it chooses to exercise it. OPS Chief Peter Sloly is responsible for the administration of the Police Service in the context of Board policies. But make no mistake about it – the Chief reports to the OPSB.

Chief Sloly is not from Ottawa. He is a former Deputy Chief with the Toronto Police who was passed over for the top job in Ottawa a couple of years back and was later passed over for the top job in the big smoke. He left policing in 2016 to work at KPMG returning to it last year when he was hired by the OPSB as the new Chief of the OPS. Initially, his appointment was well received. Some concerns were raised by Franco-Ontarians that he did not speak French, but these were allayed when he committed to learning French as part of the job. The larger narrative was that the OPSB, after mounting criticism about problems at the OPS, had brought in an outsider to fix this cancerous organization.

When he started last fall Sloly made pronouncements to local media that he was seeking out and consulting with key people in Ottawa to listen to their views and learn about the city and its relationship with the police. Carleton University Criminology Professor Darryl Davies is a nationally recognized expert on police policy and has been a subject matter expert witness at trials involving police misconduct including the trial that found the RCMP management guilty of offences that contributed to the murder of three young Mounties by a crazed gunman in 2014. Davies is often sought out by national and local media and others for his perspectives on policing and police misconduct. He has long been a credible and constructive critic of both the OPS and OPSB.

Several months after Chief Sloly was appointed Davies wrote him a friendly congratulatory letter and requested they meet. Sloly did not respond to Davies letter or his follow-up correspondence. So, Davies wrote to Mayor Jim Watson asking the mayor to encourage Sloly to respond. Mayor Watson followed up. This seemed to upset Sloly who then sent a petty and unprofessional response to Davies admonishing him for writing to the Mayor. (Ottawa Life Magazine has seen the email). Davies was stunned at what he describes as a childish temper tantrum that was dismissive and arrogant. “I was disappointed to say the least”, says Davies. “I now worry that the new guy they hired may not have the temperament and judgment required for the job, and that we’re just in for more of the same”. In the response Sloly scolds Davies telling him he is, ‘factually incorrect in several ways’ and that “his request is being managed amongst hundreds of other similar and competing requests and that since I took office on October 28, 2019 I have continually consulted extensively with a broad cross section of Ottawa’s civil society including with journalists, academics and policing/justice SME’s (several of whom have written extensively on and/or worked directly with the Ottawa Police Service).”

If you were to ask any criminologist, defence attorney, the crown or anyone else who deal in police matters to put together a list of the most knowledgeable experts about police policy, the OPS, the OPSB and policing in general in the capital (or the country), Davies name would be on that list.

In another comment consistent with the overall petty tone of his response, Sloly tells Davies that, “Your letter to me was dated December 27, 2019 and not December 28, 2019 as you have asserted below – it is a small thing but further illustrates the unfortunate level of inaccuracies in your correspondence”.

There were no inaccuracies in Davies' letter other than the date typo. Ironically, Sloly spells Davies' name wrong, calling him Davis. Sloly ends the email saying, “That said, you will hear from my EA in due course regarding my availability to meet”.

It has been almost four months, Davies has not heard a word from Sloly’s EA.

For Davies, the response made it clear that Chief Sloly's so-called ‘desire to consult’ was not genuine and that he had been captured by the same old crew at the Elgin Street HQ. The exchange made him sour very quickly on the new Chief and he now questions his hiring. “Maybe there is a reason he was passed over as chief in Toronto, says Davies. I know it was the second time he had applied for the job here as well. He was passed over the first time. So, who knows? I wonder if the OPSB asked the hiring manager in Toronto why he didn’t get the job there before giving him the job here. I wonder if it was his temperament. I mean if the guy were sincere or even interested in getting a counter point of view to what he is getting from his own people, you’d think he would want that information. If you are a leader-especially a change leader aren’t you supposed to be open to getting all the information and perspectives?” Davies adds that because Sloly has been on the job for less than a year, he will be given the benefit of the doubt “for a time”.

Temperament and judgment may be a factor at play with the new Chief’s response to a recent incident that occurred 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 announced the creation of a new Respect, Values and Inclusion (RVI) Directorate led by Supt. Isobel Granger that will “incorporate a whole-of-service approach to issues like workplace harassment, discrimination, human rights issues, as well as ethics, equity, diversity and inclusion principles. RVI purpose is to ensure Ottawa has a more progressive and inclusive police service and is a significant investment in advancing the Ottawa Police Services Board’s strategic priorities”.

OPSB Acting Chair Sandy Smallwood enthusiastically supported the initiative saying  “It only takes a few to tarnish the reputation of many. We are extremely proud of the members of the Service who serve this community day-in day-out with the highest degrees of respect, professionalism, and integrity. This new Directorate will help support them in the work they do in the community and among their peers.”

Smallwood has been on the Board for the past 8 years (2012). During this period over 60 OPS officers were criminally charged, and none were fired. He has only recently been in the role of Chair.

Sloly then 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, 39 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 pay 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.

The issue related to whether or not the meme is just racist or was also meant to convey a frustration with the continuing problem of police misconduct without consequence in the OPS cannot be dismissed given that it was made by another OPS minority officer (Ramsay) who is of Algonquin (minority) descent. OPS officers have been accused of being prejudiced towards local Indigenous people on several occasions including just three months ago. In February, 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 or Vincelette 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 OPS did not respond to allegations of racism made by Ritchie’s family at the time of the report.

The temperament and judgement issue with regards to Chief Sloly’s response to the meme is relevant. When the misconduct was directed at him personally his response 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 his officers towards citizens are brought to his attention, he ignores or dismisses them.

His response to an incident brought to his attention last fall and again in February involving misconduct by three of OPS police officers towards Rodney Mockler is another case in point. Mockler is an Ottawa resident with HIV whose life was destroyed because of an improper arrest and charges. When the matter was brought to Sloly’s attention it was met with a dismissive rebuke. OLM writer Hilary Thomson received trite and unsatisfactory responses and non-answers from the OPS Media/Communications section when inquiring about the facts regarding the Mockler case. Not satisfied with the OPS non-response, 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.”

It was a petulant and patronizing comment coming from the Chief of the OPS and showed a careless disregard and complete lack of concern for the misconduct heaped on Rodney Mockler at the behest of his officers. The full story was published in Ottawa Life Magazine in February and was then 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 had ruined Mockler’s life. He lost his job and had financial problems as a result.

After media coverage of the case, the OPSB requested the OPS look further into the matter and provide answers on the charges made in the OLM story. The OPS response to this request reveals the troubling depth and scope of the structural malfeasance at the OPS. It highlights the manipulation by senior officers of the force and their temerity in submitting ‘investigative reports’ to the OPSB which are factually wrong and fraudulent.

On April 27, OPS Superintendent Robert Drummond submitted a short (two-page) duplicitous and untruthful report on the Rodney Mockler matter to the OPSB which completely exonerated the officers. It contains multiple errors of fact in what appears to be a successful endeavour to suppress and protect the misconduct of three Ottawa Police officers who acted outside of the rules of Ontario Police Services Act. It misrepresents the facts of the case to the OPSB (a constable doctoring evidence, police rewriting witness statements and then not showing up in court) and omits other key information and evidence. Incredibly, Drummond’s report summarily dismisses the findings of The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) who found the Ottawa Police deficient in their investigation of Mockler and who criticized the OPS investigation specifically for not interviewing the two other officers in the case.

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. Superintendent Drummond completely absolves the concerns raised by OIPRD as if they have no authority in holding the OPS to account. Drummond writes that ‘He looked into it and doesn't agree’.

The arrogance of the statement is astounding. He claims, “The OIPRD had a different opinion than the OPS about how the investigation should have been conducted and requested that more interviews be conducted to support the findings.” The OIPRD had criticized the OPS investigation for not interviewing two other officers involved in the Mockler case. In his report to OPSB, Drummond claims that he interviewed all three 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 noted in the complaint 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 deemed it appropriate to submit a report to his superiors at the OPSB completely clearing his officers despite substantial and proven evidence of serious misconduct. In keeping with the overall hubris of his report, Drummond concludes it by saying, “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”.

In his formal report to the OPSB, Drummond summarily dismisses the OIPRD concerns in the Mockler case while claiming at the same time that he “Participated in that review and conducted the OIPRD directed remedies”. It is classic Orwellian doublespeak and false and misleading. What is even more disconcerting is that not one member of OPSB has questioned the veracity of Drummond’s ‘investigation’ or held him to account for the fabrications and contradictions in his report. Why have the OPSB not questioned Chief Sloly on the misleading parts of this 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 offence under the Ontario Police Services Act.

It makes one wonder how many other times the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the OPSB and explains the bigger reason why there is such a serious problem with police accountability in Ottawa.

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 does not post the details and totals of the millions of dollars it pays out annually in settlements and legal fees on its website. Past requests for this information from Ottawa Life Magazine to former OPSB Chairs Diane Deans and Eli El Chantiry have been ignored.

The OPSB are solely responsible for the continuing chaos of the OPS. Current Chair Sandy Smallwood did question misconduct at different times when he was serving as a one vote member of the Board. As Chair he should be given the opportunity to bring about the transformative changes required to fix the OPS. Ottawa Councilor Carol Anne Meehan is a new OPSB member and in her first few months has been a breath of fresh air, demanding more accountability of the force and its actions, and that is promising. However, given Chief Sloly’s uneven start, the Attorney General of Ontario would do well to take a deeper look at the systemic and structural problems with the force in Ottawa. Part of any review should examine the many delinquencies and failures of the OPSB over the past 15 years in holding the OPS to account.

Chief Sloly played the race card early. Now he must make the case that Constable Ramsay, a fellow minority officer who allegedly made the meme, is a racist. Sloly is right to be angry about any misconduct or meme directed at him by his subordinates, especially one he believes to be racist. And he is right to confront racism anywhere in the OPS. But he would do well to use an equal amount of vigour to confront the continuing problem of criminal misconduct by OPS officers — regardless of their race. Temperament is an important quality in a leader. Sloly was so angry that he had 100 officers interviewed to find the perpetrator of a racialized meme.

Ironically, Ottawa resident Rodney Mockler couldn't even get someone in the OPS to talk to him about the misconduct foisted upon him by Sloly’s officers, despite 47 in person visits and 16 phone calls. And when Sloly himself learned about it — his proven actions showed he could care less. And that is the problem. The OPS has become a Kafkaesque soap opera with one section of the OPS now investigating another section of the OPS, all on the taxpayers’ dime. And citizens like Rodney Mockler continue to be the real victims of this sad charade.