Police board must act on allegations against senior officers

 

The time has come for the Ottawa Police Services Board to act. When Ottawa lawyer Michael Edelson and his firm reviewed thousands of pages of disclosures from the Ottawa Police Service, concerns about the consistency of the evidence made by senior police officers were raised.

Mr. Edelson had been retained to represent an Acting Staff Sergeant who was facing criminal charges recommended by the provincial Special Investigations Unit. The charges followed an explosion at a tactical team training session which injured other police officers and paramedics. At issue was a common practice of using anti-freeze instead of water as part of explosives training.

The reported inconsistencies raised questions as to whether senior advisors to the police chief purposefully changed evidence in an effort to immunize the police service, proverbially throwing members under the bus. No other problem compares with what may emerge from the OPP investigation into these very serious claims against the chief’s small circle of advisors.

Chief Charles Bordeleau has shown a zeal for imposing suspensions or administrative transfers on the rank-and-file officers. Many were imposed on the basis of mere allegations; others on the thinnest of evidence, well before investigations were commenced. The Chief’s standard emails to police service members to explain these actions cited the need for police transparency in the public interest. A communique would soon follow – sometimes naming the suspended officer, other times protecting the name in a naïve assumption he/she would not be identified (in fact, sources would disclose names within hours).  Along the way, careers were tarnished despite acquittals or withdrawals of charges.  

Implicit in these messages is the notion that police officers should be held to a higher standard. The Ottawa Police Association agrees; indeed the legislation covering police in Ontario provides multiple sources of oversight and expects sworn police officers and civilian employees to maintain the highest standards.

These expectations apply equally to the chief and his executive leadership team.

While the current reported situation has many layers, its most repugnant allegations include the fabrication of evidence and obstruction of justice by members of the Chief’s inner circle. Making matters worse, the actions by the Chief’s advisors appeared to be focused on immunizing the police service from liability – despite clear evidence that the use of windshield-washer fluid in these training exercises was a common practice. In the end, and despite the efforts of these senior advisors, the charges against the rank-and-file members were stayed – Crown prosecutors citing “contradictions” in the evidence. Charges laid against the police service by the Ministry of Labour have all since been withdrawn.

Chief Bordeleau has suspended or administratively transferred dozens of police officers over questions of conduct that pale in comparison to allegations of fabrication of evidence and obstruction of justice. In rejecting questions about his refusal to suspend his senior officers, the Chief claims to have new or different information that distinguishes these allegations from his treatment of others. But there is no “new” information; the allegations are based on contradictions discovered in the evidence disclosed in the original criminal charges against the rank-and-file – information known long ago.

The Chief’s notional interpretation of a higher standard of conduct has two tiers: one that applies to rank-and-file members and one reserved for the few who occupy senior management positions. This is no longer debatable.

Leadership demands consistency in the application of rules and policies. The Chief has consistently been inconsistent in his imposing suspensions or transfers – leaving an indelible stain on his leadership.

The Chief’s refusal to act on these allegations is alarming. When one of the most respected law firms in Canada raises issues directly with the Attorney General of Ontario, the rank-and-file focuses on the Chief’s response. These allegations, which have been reported in the Citizen, suggest that one or more of the Chief’s senior advisors may have changed evidence in a way that would place blame for a workplace accident on rank-and-file police officers. The natural question that follows is: Why are these people not subject to the same suspensions that would inevitably be imposed on a rank and file officer?

 The women and men of the police service deserve consistency and fairness from their leaders – two characteristics they are starting to believe are missing in the police service. It is time for the Chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, Councillor Eli El Chantiry, to intervene to preserve confidence in the leadership of the Ottawa Police Service.  

 

Matt Skof

President,

Ottawa Police Association

(originally published, Ottawa Citizen – May 11, 2017)