• By: Dan Donovan

The Embarrassment that is the Ottawa Police Association

Arrogant Attack on Carleton University Academic Freedom Shows OPA Care More About Protecting Members than the Public they Serve

I am a proponent of the police. I believe that confidence of citizens in their local police force is one of the most important ingredients in a free and democratic society. The police are given extraordinary powers to arrest and detain people in our society, so it is critical that they respect those powers at all times and do not abuse them or bring themselves into disrepute at any time with inappropriate behaviour  or misconduct. If they do, the consequences should be transparent, swift and severe.

The best guardian against police malfeasance is strong leadership from the Police Chief as well as police oversight bodies that determine their standard of professional behaviour and define the consequences for bad behaviour, professional misconduct and criminal behaviour. Sadly, today in policing in Canada, we do not have such a standard. In fact, we have the reverse. Across the country, including here in the nation’s capital, we have policemen who are out of control, who operate with arrogance toward the public for which they are servants and who are increasingly being viewed as bullies towards citizens rather than protectors of citizens.

The police have damaged their own brand and reputation across the country and seem to care less.  The cases of police malfeasance and bad behaviour in Canada are at an all time high. The first mass public viewing of this crisis in policing in Canada was exhibited at the G-20 Summit in Toronto in 2010. Police used unnecessary and excessive force and beat innocent people, violated their civil rights and detained over 1,100 people illegally, releasing them later without charge. Dozens of cowardly officers preemptively covered their name tags with tape so civilians would not be able to identify them as they beat the numerous innocent citizens in an orgy of testosterone pummelling that seemed surreal. One of the injured victims, oddly named Adam Nobody, spoke for everybody and fought police attempts in the courts when they tried to cover-up and later justify their behaviour.  It took almost four years for him to get justice as the police officers who assaulted him, with the full support of their ‘association”, lied and cajoled every step of the way to protect themselves from facing justice.

The videotapes of the incident didn’t lie and the truth came out.  The "police officers” would have gotten away with it had it not been for the video. The case showed that police officers ignored basic rights citizens have under the Charter and overstepped their authority when they stopped and searched people arbitrarily, without legal justification. In Nobody’s case, they literally assaulted him and beat the bejeezus out of  him, breaking his arm.

This testosterone driven “police work” is similar to the case of last summer’s cold blooded killing of Sammy Yatim by Toronto Police. Yatim, a 16-year-old minor with no previous incidents, was on a streetcar when he was shot dead in the early minutes of July 27, 2013. Witnesses have said that Yatim was holding a knife while inside the empty streetcar. Yatim was very distressed but was posing no danger to anyone as he was inside the street car on his own. Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo fired three gunshots in quick succession, followed by a five-second pause and then six more shots. Nine shots in total in a couple of seconds. There were 22 officers on the scene when he was shot and it was all recorded by several witnesses at the scene. Not one of them stepped forward to stop Constable Forcillo or offer any mediation.  However, for good measure, the police then tasered Yatim  (after shooting him 9 times). The initial police response to the shooting was what we get from the majority of police forces today — circle the wagons and suggest they acted properly.

The police don’t like to be questioned. The public outcry was so great that the police hierarchy and the crown were forced to act and Forcillo was charged with second degree murder, but immediately released on bail and he continues to be suspended with pay. Incredulously, Mike McCormick of the Toronto Police Association urged the public “not to jump to conclusions in the case” and noted that the aftermath of the shooting has been difficult for the officer and his family. In the weird world of today’s policing, the Police Association President expects the public to have more empathy for the guy who shot the 16-year-old kid 9 times as if he was the victim. That alone speaks volumes about the police problem in Canada.  The public did not jump to any conclusions. Millions watched the recorded incident on Youtube. The public is worried and rightly so that the police will cover up the facts or do whatever it takes to protect other police regardless of the facts.

There is lots of precedent for this. Remember the Robert Dzieka?ski case? Dzieka?ski was tasered and killed on October 14, 2007 at Vancouver airport by four RCMP constables in what can only be described as police testosterone in overdrive coupled with brutality. Full details of the incident only became public because Paul Pritchard, an eyewitness, filmed it. The RCMP initially took possession of his video, refusing to return it to Pritchard. Pritchard went to court to obtain it, and then released it to the press. Once it was released, the RCMP spokesperson urged the public not to jump to conclusions in the case. It later came out that the RCMP lied about the incident and what really transpired between the officers who killed the innocent Dzieka?ski.  It took years for the case to work through the courts, but an inquiry found the RMCP lied and misrepresented the entire case and that the RCMP officers later deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators. The BC Coroners Service determined that the Robert Dzieka?ski  death at the hands of the RCMP was a homicide.

Of course the RCMP has been in a mess for years, rife with sexism, careerism, corruption and malfeasance. The latest RCMP Commissioner Paul Paulsen has proven just as inept in denial when it suits his and the forces purpose. Two years ago, Cpl. Catherine Galliford a RCMP constable who was recognizable to the broader Canadian public as the spokesperson on several high profile crime cases, logged a  sexual harassment complaint against the RCMP. Her  suit ousted the massive problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP and led to over 300 female Mounties across the country becoming  involved in a lawsuit against the force, claiming rampant gender discrimination and sexual harassment within the force, which had failed for decades to do anything about it. Paulsen’s response was to complain  the RCMP was being targeted by “outlandish claims.” Then Galliford  received a letter saying the RCMP was seeking to discharge her because she's unable to do her job. (She had been on medical leave due to the constant harassment). That is the visionary process of dealing with a problem by the “Chief” running Canada’s national police force and we wonder why there are problems with policing. Arrogance and bullying emanate at the top and as in most organizations flow south.

Now, let’s get to Ottawa and the case of the equally narcissistic and humility-challenged President of the Ottawa Police Association, Matt Skof. In listening to Skof, I am reminded of the age old adage that “It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.” It seems Skof took great offence to Carleton University Criminology Professor Darryl Davies' recent letter to the Toronto Star questioning police accountability on a number of fronts. Davies is a national expert on policing matters with over three decades of academic teaching, experience and a proven record of preparing and writing reports and advising police organizations on various police and legal matters, including past work for the RCMP. This is why Davies' articles in recent times calling out the police for more police accountability are so stinging. Davies has consistently called for higher standards of accountability for police in Canada. He notes with much empirical research data that there is one standard of justice for police in Canada who are involved in questionable or criminal activity and a separate level of justice for everyone else. Davies raises legitimate  and very relevant questions in the public interest that shine a light on the growing problem of the militarization of policing in Canada , poor training, poor leadership and lack of police oversight.

In his letter published in the Toronto Star, Davies noted that numerous Ontario communities like Ottawa are struggling with the rising costs of policing services. Davies questioned who pays the costs for the thousands of police who attend mass funerals if someone is killed on duty. A legitimate question, albeit an uncomfortable one. If these costs are covered by police themselves or their association — no problem, if they are covered by taxpayers, then there may be a problem. With a growing number of municipalities saying they can no longer afford the high costs police organizations are charging them or even the increased prices for contract policing by organizations like the OPP, any question related to police expenditures by the taxpaying public is relevant. Ironically, it is always the police who say they cannot afford freezes or cuts but expect everyone else to do so. They of course suggest if they don’t get their annual increase, society will suffer and there will be more crime.

Davies also queried as to why in  the past 21 months, 18 police officers in the Ottawa Police Service have been convicted for discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act of Ontario. He noted that two lawsuits were filed against the Ottawa Police Service for the actions of their officers.  He mentioned that one of Ottawa’s most respected criminal defence lawyers, Lawrence Greenspon, has publicly stated that he believes there is a systemic rogue policing problem in Ottawa. Interestingly, in his letter, Davies noted that there are good police officers who do great work in Ottawa but argued that the rogue element was affecting the credibility of the Ottawa Police Service. Davies then hit the bull’s eye noting that whether the “Ottawa police problem is poor training or lack of accountability, something has to change and change dramatically if people are going to retain any respect and trust in their police service. Only when settlements from lawsuits are added to the police budget are the true costs of policing known to our community."

Skof was upset Davies was publicly asking these questions and wrote a threatening letter on behalf of the Ottawa Police Association to Carleton University saying that  “Both as a graduate of Carleton and as someone who is often involved in several projects within the University, such as the Future of Policing study, research interviews for graduate students, interviews with the school of Journalism and CKCU radio, etc., I believe that the comments made by Mr. Davies do not reflect well upon the reputation of the University.

So now Skof is not only the President of the Police Association, he is the person who decides what reflects well upon the university’s reputation.

He goes on to say that:

"The Ottawa Police Association understands the importance of civilian oversight of member actions, indeed police in the Province of Ontario are subject to various independent levels of review.  Furthermore we understand and respect the importance of academic freedom of expression, but such freedom need not cross thresholds of responsible accounting of complex events."

His hubris, sense of self importance and arrogance is such that Skof feels that he can now define for the rest of us what freedom of thought is “but such freedom need not cross thresholds of responsible accounting of complex events.”

I guess we the public are all too stupid to understand 'the complex events' that happen in “policing” and should leave that to people like Skof and…the police.

He then calls on Davies and Carleton to apologize to “our officers.” Skof and this self serving clique known as the Ottawa Police Association are, of course, a bunch of thin skinned pugilists. It's sad that they do not recognize that we live in a democracy, the cornerstone of which is free speech. This attitude, of course, comes as no surprise to many. It was the Ottawa Police Association and their former President in 2011 who tried to justify the actions of their fellow officers in the cell block beating and assault of the innocent Stacy Bonds, which the Ottawa police tried to cover up before they ran into a principled judged who had no time for their antics.

Rather than attacking Davies, Carleton University and the principle of academic freedom, I suggest Skof and his “Association” spend more time on the real problem. It can be found right in front of them if they hold up a mirror. Skof would do well to try to exercise his brain and comment or explain to the public why the Ottawa Police Association supports (and condones) these recent cases of Ottawa police malfeasance.

1) The Ottawa police officer who was charged in January 2014 with domestic assault and harassment.

2)  The February 25, 2014 case where an Ottawa policeman pleaded guilty to driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit.

3) The March 7, 2014 charges against a sergeant in the Ottawa police tactical unit who was charged with impaired driving.

4) The March 10case where a sergeant in the traffic division was charged with assaulting a woman and carelessly storing his police issued firearm.

5) Recent charges brought against Ottawa Police Constable Scott for criminal harassment and assault with a weapon. He is to appear in court later this month on two counts of criminal harassment, including stalking and assaulting a woman with a weapon.

6) Charges against Const. Pat Lafreniere and Const. Kirk Batson who are alleged to have unlawfully arrested Denis Seguin, a busker, with unnecessary force along Rideau St. on Sept. 1, 2013. Lafreniere and Batson, both patrol officers, are each charged with two counts of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority. The arrest was for the offence of "failing to leave when directed," according to the notice of disciplinary hearing.

***There are two Pat Lafrenieres on the Ottawa Police force. PATRICK RONALD LAFRENIERE IS NOT the constable facing disciplinary hearings. CONSTABLE PATRICK RONALD LAFRENIERE has been with the Ottawa Police for several decades and continues to have an exemplary record of service with the force.

 The  Constable Pat Lafreniere facing disciplinary hearings is a younger Constable and has been with the Ottawa Police for a shorter period of  time. 

7) Ottawa Police Constable Ahmad Bayaa who was convicted of drunk driving on Nov. 2, 2013…and  is still a policeman.

8) Sgt. Mark Barclay who was  charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle under the  Criminal Code on March 7, 2014. He has been assigned to administrative duties (still getting paid!).

9) The completely inept police  from Ottawa who so botched a case with ignorance and bias that the 77-year-old victim in the case, Marian Andrzejewski is now suing Ottawa police officers and a 911 operator.

10) The case against Constable Kevin Jacobs who was found guilty under the Police Services Act of using excessive force to arrest Mark Krupa after he’d been pulled over for speeding.

11) Ottawa police incompetence and irregularity as recently filed in a statement of claim  by Ottawa residents George and Mineta Albina who are seeking  $50,000 for "negligent investigation, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution" and another $25,000 in punitive damages stemming from a dispute in the fall of 2013.

The Ottawa Police Association and Skof’s callous disregard for freedom of speech and academic freedom is distressing. It’s interesting that all the police mentioned above are still with the force — charges and all. Oh and what does our Police Chief Charles Bordeleau say about these cases?

“The Ottawa Police Service expects the conduct of all officers to be of the highest standard and reflective of the values of our community.”

Yeah, right. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.  Keep going Professor Davies and CARLETON, because the pen is mightier than the sword.