Ottawa's Mad Tea Party: The Chief, The Mayor, The Board Chair ... and the Police and Public (Who Weren't Invited)
"I didn't know it was your table - it's laid for a great many more than three." - Alice to the March Hare, "Alice in Wonderland"
So why is a raven like a writing desk? Like the Lewis Carroll unanswered riddle in Alice in Wonderland, so is the question, what in Hell's half acres is going on with the upper echelons of the Ottawa Police Services and the much beleaguered Ottawa Police Services Board. As much as we often ignore the goings-on of municipal government, in this instance it is critical that the public understands and engages in this issue to ensure that the unfolding drama is dealt with.
Before we get into the many problems that have surfaced over the past few years, its important that I state my interest: I have spent many years studying the transformation of policing organizations in Western nations and have written several articles and research papers on the topic and my dissertation addressed the legislative impacts of terrorism on policing. I am also a research fellow with the Police Foundation in the US and subscribe to the foundations of evidence-based crime control. My position has always been, and remains, that there is an organizational crisis in policing as a response to changing societal needs, technology, diversity, etc. in many cities and countries, not only Ottawa.
One Ottawa Citizen reporter recently suggested I was biased; while I believe that no researcher can be completely unbiased and for that reason I take great effort in exposing my position, background and approach to determining the facts. In this OpEd, I cannot erase my bias as a member of the public; I do live in this city and do have a vested interest. Further to that, I also have a high expectation that our municipal government demonstrate the will of its constituents, that they adhere to legislation (and not work the grey areas) and do not exercise their own personal or professional agendas over that of my community needs.
Regardless, in this case I believe the facts speak for themselves and in an effort to sum up the issues, their downstream impacts and how it will hurt our community and our police force, I do not purport to understand the cause nor agendas - quite honestly, I have no idea what is motivating what appears to be gross insubordination and the turning of a blind eye by the very bodies who govern these institutions for us, the public. Aside from the drama that is playing out, the gravest concern is for the safety of our communities, the well-being of those who police it and prosperity - not innovation - of our City through its people.
Most of us are aware that over the past few years the headlines related to Ottawa Police Services (OPS) leadership under Chief Bordeleau's watch have been scathing and accusatory, hinting hard at charges of unethical behaviour, collusion and stonewalling of police member concerns. These incidents - refusals by the Chief to investigate serious allegations of senior members, investigators resigning over hiring practices and many more - have mounted in recent months and whether it is increased prevalence or that the disappointment of the rank and file has resulted in more rocks being overturned, is not clear. What is clear is that every resident of Ottawa who values safety and security as provided by our police force needs to be aware of at least the symptoms and what seems like the systemic perversion of the City many of us only remember.
There are four key organizational players in this conflict to be familiar with: the Ottawa Police Services Board, a seven-member civilian Board responsible for setting overall police services objectives and priorities, monitoring the performance of the Chief, approving the annual budget, preparing the business plan and hiring under the Police Services Act; the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) who is responsible for conducting investigations and inquiries into the conduct of chiefs of police, police officers and members of police services boards in Ontario; the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) and their members; and the Ottawa Police Association (OPA), the union representation of OPS members.
There is also the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) a civilian body that receives, manages and oversees all complaints about police in Ontario and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) who addresses incidents in Ontario where police and public are involved in serious injury, death or alleged sexual assault.
Its hard to tell when the Ottawa Police Services' problems reached a feverish crescendo - many incidents were unearthed and collided in such close proximity - but in April 2016 there was a clear break-from-the-herd, signalling organizational dissent: Const. Paul Heffler brazenly sent a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen that stated, among other nuggets, “A fish rots from the head down, and in Ottawa, it is clear that El-Chantiry is that head”. Clearly, Heffler had serious concerns over El-Chantiry’s direction to the force and as board chair. Pretty hot stuff. By June, Heffler was under investigation for his outspoken act.
Heffler was referring to the same El-Chantiry whose resignation was demanded by Matt Skof, Ottawa Police Association president in March 2016 for the same reasons as Heffler stated and he is also the same chair who facilitated, through his position, secret meetings held by the OPSB as discovered in April 2016; a clear no-no under the Police Services Act and denounced as such by Hon. Wynne. While Wynne indicated the "private" (but really they were 'secret') Ottawa Police Service Board meetings violated provincial legislation, she has remained silent and inactive on the matter since. Minister Yasir Naqvi has remained silent. Period.
What is stranger about this particular incident is that in June 2016 the OPSB responded by voting - yes, voting on already-enacted legislation - on whether these meetings would be open to the public and minutes made available, even though they are legislated to be. Anyways, they exercised their importance and did agree that some meetings would be made public, as the Police Services Act already dictates. Its not clear how the "some" will be audited or validated as compliant.
Further to that, a recent complaint to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) on El-Chantiry's involvement in the secret meetings was met with a refusal to perform a formal investigation, nor did the OCPC offer any resolution, such as releasing the minutes, which have not been released to the public by the OPSB so far. They did however indicate they would "remind" OPSB Chair Eli El-Chantiry of his obligation to maintain these meetings as public.
Unsure as to when the responsibilities of the OPSB Chair devolved to that of a forgetful grocery clerk who keeps putting the waxed beans next to the brown beans, it is nonetheless disturbing. Disturbing that key governing legislation can be circumvented and disturbing that upon discovery of its breach that it could be glossed over by the "independent oversight agency tasked with ensuring that adequate and effective policing services are provided in a fair and accountable manner under the Ontario Police Services Act" - in the words of the mandate of the OCPC.
But this isn't the first time the OCPC - or its sister bodies the OIPRD and the SIU - has been fired upon for its lack of action and perceived bias. In March, Bordeleau came under scrutiny for what appeared to be influence-peddling in his father-in-law's traffic court appearance over a ticket (Bordeleau admitted to calling the courthouse and speaking with courthouse employees to make inquiries regarding his father-in-law's case) and an investigation was mounted by the OCPC, initiated by the OPSB not the OPA. This past week, Bordeleau was cleared by the OCPC of any conflict of interest or misconduct in the matter, much to the ire of the OPA and the Ottawa Police members.
Upon hearing the determination, OPA president Matt Skof said the union is “outraged” with the decision and that the OCPC finding was based on only the chief’s side of the story; it had been alleged that courthouse employees were not interviewed. Skof further alleged that officers have lost confidence in Bordeleau as Chief. It appears the message the OCPC is sending is that anything short of indictable crimes are not worth their time; but there is something to be said for factual judgment and cumulative guilt, at least with the OPS members.
Months earlier there were demands for OPSB Chair to resign and now the Chief has been added to that exclusive club, as it appears there are concerted efforts, including internal petitions at OPS, to oust the Chief. Like Alice at the Mad Tea Party, the membership is fed up with the unanswered riddles that appear to exist to only perpetuate confusion and disorder and to fuel the semantics of justifications. And, like Alice who left the party before it was over, the membership appears to be pushing their chairs back in exasperation.
We would be foolish to think that the organizational despair is superficial and will resolve on its own; the frank reality is that this poison has permeated the culture of the Ottawa Police Services. The members' union made it clear in spring that they had lost confidence in the OPSB Chair and instead of resigning, the Chair stood firm at the expense of the members and at the expense of reparations to our police service. And now the members, and some of the public, are making it clear they have lost confidence in the Chief and that a change is necessary in order to begin to fix the internal issues at OPS.
In a culture that is hinged on oath, if the perception is that the leadership is exempt from the ethical standards of their oath and indemnified from investigative processes and punishment, employee satisfaction and performance can't help but suffer. As an essential service in Ontario and one of the fastest growing segments of municipal operating budgets, its bizarre that the Mayor is tolerating the continued soap opera, increasing dissent and continued ignorance (and arrogance) towards police service members by the OPSB and Chief in particular.
In fact, his silence is completely incongruent with the investment this City has made in its police service in past years; an investment that is eroding away with rapid speed. In fact, today in response to the concerns expressed by Ottawa Police Service members towards Bordeleau, Watson said, “If they’re that outraged in principle … they’re not being handcuffed to a desk, they can leave”. (I have to put my most impartial views aside and say: Wow. Just wow. What the hell is going on here??)
Most of these disgruntled officers are well-paid and some are even on the Sunshine List but good pay doesn't make you do a good job; it makes you meet the bare minimum. Achievement, respect, responsibility, contribution to the work itself, recognition, growth and promotion are the satisfiers that make good employees become great employees who do great work, if their minimum needs are met, in any vocation. The Mayor has stated that money has been spent to hire more officers and boost the city's anti-gang strategy, as well OPS will be investing in its IT upgrade and renewal, but if the OPS membership satisfaction is at all time low, will more officers and new laptops really improve morale and workplace health and satisfaction as a whole?
It appears as the best bang for the buck - our buck - is to address current concerns, restore moral and stop borrowing best practices from other municipalities and start recognizing our own specific needs in this City and design our policing response to meet them with the involvement of the frontline experts. The ineffectiveness of these oversight civilian organizations needs to be cashed in on - if there is a bias or even a resistance to serve the public interest, surely we can allocate those salaries to other budget columns.
We have been seeing the service -level impacts of the low moral and weakening from within in Ottawa Police Services and while not necessarily the cause but a possible correlation, along with budget cuts, Ottawa's crime trends are disparaging. The burgeoning gang crime (and growth) and gun violence in Ottawa in the past few years is concerning. Although according to the OPS statistics, the crime rate and violent crime rate - being violent crime towards a person not random bullets - has had little change in the past years.
Worth noting are the numbers over the past few years; in 2015 there were approximately 43 reported shootings, 49 in 2014, 30 in 2013 and 32 in 2012 with any of these shootings attributed to gang-related crime. Numbers aside, what is most unsettling is that these shootings did not occur in one particular area of the city - its widespread, indicating a proliferation: west, south, east, central, Vanier, the Market, Orleans, Navan, Bells Corners, Kanata and further into the rural areas surrounding the city, where consequently many drug-related busts have occurred.
On the surface the numbers over the years may indicate that there is little improvement or that they might be worse but what they really say is that the value of what is being fought over is stable and likely increasing - whether it is drugs or territory. Irrespective of how many bullets fly and how many key players are released from prison in a given period, the revenue source has remained viable enough and the countermeasures have been weakened enough that local market share is tangible. Where the middle market feeds the street level crime, it also feeds the top level distribution.
Mayor Watson stated, with regard the recent three shootings in 14 hours - three out of some forty this year so far - that the shootings were "very disturbing and very frightening" but that "Ottawa is a safe city". Many have taken issue with this for the above explanation: while the likelihood of being shot while walking through the Market is very low, people are shooting at each other for a reason. This was made clear back in 2015, Ottawa Police stated that the dramatic spike in shootings in Ottawa in 2014 pointed to a "mini-arms race" among street gang members fighting over drug territory and there were signs that the violence was escalating. That is what we are seeing now; so far this year, we have as many homicides than in all of 2015 and 2014.
The bottom line is the willingness to pull a trigger has little to do with actual levels of crime in the city; rest assured the gangs are committing their crimes and some are caught, many are not. And that's not comforting no matter how the statistics are couched; homicides may be comparatively low but that has little to do with the safety and quality of life in our City. Likely, the disbelief we are feeling now over the number of shootings, increased gang violence and drug crime will multiply in coming years no matter how many guns and gangs officers we throw at the problem. The answer doesn't lay in tactics but organizational strategy, communications and relationship-building and programmatic improvements and resource allocation.
And why isn't Ottawa Police brass alarmed? Why isn't the OPSB up in arms? I assume it is privileged autonomy ... or impunity. But do you know who is up in arms? Officers. Aside from the resource and budget cuts and general stress and rigour of their jobs, they are up in arms over concerns of executive-level collusion, corruption, ineffective committees and a Board who does little bid their concerns. The media is reporting some of the drama but the various outlets seem to be running off madly in all directions, not bothering to align stories or consolidate the complicated historical depth of this boondoggle.
And why aren't we why outraged and screaming for heads and bloodletting? Well, I don't know that we really understand the gravity of what's going on or if its that we're just so desensitized to corruption, we are immobilized with apathy. When those who lead the public safety of this City compare us to Montreal and Toronto in an effort to discount the current situation and suggest "the nightmare scenario in Ottawa remains the stray bullet", I would suggest the nightmare scenario is what we have right now. Will the ground-swell of anger, dismay and disgust from the rank and file members be enough to affect change at the top? Hard to say, but one thing is for sure: trust has been breached to the extent that it is irreparable in its current state.
If you want to force change, we all need to stand up and open the flood gates. Email Jim Watson, El-Chantiry, Wynne, Naqvi and issue complaints to the OIPRD and OCPC. It doesn't have to be fancy - they won't read the first few but they might start reading the 1,000th ... or 10,000th. The URLs and emails are below.
Change.org Petition - public: "We want a transparent, impartial and full investigation into Chief Bordeleau" - https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jim-watson-we-want-a-transparent-impatial...
Ombudsman Ontario - Municipal Oversight and Transparency/Online Complaint Form:
OIPRD - Online Complaint Form: https://complaint.oiprd.on.ca/OIPRD.Efile/Complaint_en.aspx
Email - Admin: Lynn.Kennedy@ottawa.ca
Email - Chair: email@example.com
Email - Chief Bordeleau: BordeleauC@ottawapolice.ca
MPP Yasir Naqvi: http://yasirnaqvi.onmpp.ca/
Hon. Kathleen Wynne: http://kathleenwynne.onmpp.ca
Mayor Jim Watson: http://www.jimwatsonottawa.ca/