Ottawa's Mad Tea Party Serves Up Its Appetizer and First Course: Pan-Fried Criteria and Wafer-Thin Statistics
At the Ottawa Police Services meeting on May 29th, there were several items on the agenda but the most anticipated was the Chief's verbal address on the matter of inconsistent suspensions in the Ottawa Police Services, where it has been charged that the practices are subjective and only for the blessed few and favoured. As expected, the Chief put forth rock-solid evidence of fair and just suspension practices and the OPSB demonstrated their beguiling commitment to directing and monitoring the Chief under the Police Services Act, Responsibilities of the Board, Section 31 ... Okay, that didn't happen, but here's what did.
To begin with absent from the Board meeting were the Board Chair, Eli El-Chantiry and member Allan Hubley; they were in Newfoundland at the Canadian Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (CACOLE) conference (CACOLE is a Canadian non-profit "dedicated to advancing the concept, principles and application of civilian oversight of law enforcement", whose executive committee and board of directors is made up of members of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC), Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and other police commissions and boards.
Considering the importance of this agenda item and public interest, one would expect that the Chair would have been compelled to attend, or in the least in his absence, that much more inquiry would have occurred by the Board members who were present. Details on who was present and who voted, to be confirmed by the minutes not yet released, it is assumed that the Chair and the other member did not vote as there are no provisions in Board policy for proxy votes and meetings hinge on actual attendance. Regardless, the acceptance of the Chief's 'criteria for suspensions and non-suspensions was "unanimous" but how this was arrived at has not been disclosed, as it appears the vote was held "in-camera", citing confidentiality and privacy reasons.
Made available to the public were the suspension criteria as outlined by the Chief that included, but were not limited to, availability of facts and information, seriousness of offence, concern for public safety, liability issues, public accountability, employment history and integrity of the investigation. Thin, incomplete and with no detailed process revealed, these raise more questions than answers. In a professional organization that relies on policies, processes and substantiation - evidence - as the cornerstones to enforcing law and maintaining order and integrity, it was surprising that the criteria was a laundry list of considerations, void of measurements and, well, evidence.
Questions posed to the Chief by Board members also appeared to be less than pointed; there is no indication that an explanation was sought on how these considerations were rated, measured, applied and by who. Does each vary with weighed criteria? Do repeat offences factor into the severity or seriousness of the violation or offence? Does past conduct or input from the officer's direct supervisor impact the decision-making process? As well, the availability of facts and information stuck out; under what circumstances would there be an unavailability facts and information - wouldn't that conclude that there wouldn't have been enough to form a complaint in the first place? And isn't investigation integrity a given or does this infer that some investigations are viewed as less credible or that they may fall short of the required benchmark? In short, there is nothing in these considerations that indicate how impartiality reached and maintained. It is not criteria.
As for the Chief's example of only five out of ninety-some members were suspended attempted to demonstrate the infrequency of suspensions, rendering it a non-issue. But without disclosing the criteria that substantiates these suspension decisions and an understanding the severity of those investigations over a much broader period of time, the numbers have little meaning. Tantamount to a endorsement by dentists on a particular brand of toothpaste, it lacks profundity and seriousness. The only profound sentiment that emerged from the meeting was that nobody wanted to ask the hard questions, leaving the devil to toil in the details.
One of the first questions should have been are suspensions prior to an investigation meant to limit impact and damage to the organization and the public - or are they meant to be punitive? The latter seems unethical. Determining the seriousness of offence, liability and public accountability must be assessed based on risk, previous behaviours, access to sensitive information, and the standard expected of the individual's accountability and responsibility in governance (non-executive ranks have lower accountability and responsibility than that of executive officers, assuming they are promoted on their exemplary demonstration of organizational values).
While the actual transgression - statute or organizational violation versus a summary, hybrid or indictable crime - is crucial, many will still suggest that if these were viable factors, the senior OPS executives facing criminal allegations of fraud and evidence manipulation would have been, in the least, re-assigned in order to maintain integrity, public confidence and reduce organizational risk and liability.
With that, it is important to come full-circle: recently, the Chair asserted that the Police Services Act permits the Chief the discretion to suspend or not suspend a member. This is only true in the greyest interpretation of the legislation. Discretion does not suggest unfettered discretionary power - in fact, no where in Canadian law is this permitted. Instead, it is intended and shown in case law to be exercised within the boundaries of other statutes, such as the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, to assure the public of fairness toward the individual involved and, in this case, balanced with human rights and labour laws. There is no legislation that suggests that inconsistency should be tolerated. In fact, in the private and public service it is actively avoided - so why would a professionalized service centered on public safety ignore its own glaring inconsistency?
In policing, unsubstantiated discretion is contrary to the profession and needs to be substantiated to maintain public confidence and organizational integrity, especially for members, as it can stand to destroy the effectiveness of proactive and reactive enforcement of laws and order maintenance. Considering the impacts of the decision of suspensions, the stigmas on police service members and professional accountability at this level, the public does expect demonstrated and substantiated objectivity and transparency enforced by an established framework - policy, process and qualified measures - to ensure that the susceptibility of bias and partiality has been mitigated. That is what the public and police services members were awaiting with very cautious optimism, instead they were left unsatiated.
For the Board to expect the public and police members to accept anything less than what is suggested above is condescending and contemptuous and suggests they regard us as nothing more than children relegated to the backseat, expected to remain quiet under the high-hand bureaucracy.