Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has deemed Coun. Lloyd Ferguson's temporary appointment to Hamilton's Police Services Board unlawful.
The Police Services Board released a statement Monday morning, announcing it has postponed Monday's scheduled meeting because of the decision. City council voted last week to appoint the Ancaster councillor to the board that governs the Hamilton Police Service. Ferguson was set to serve in the interim during the suspension of Coun. Terry Whitehead, who is being investigated by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission on accused behavioral issues.
"The board has also been advised that the Ontario Civilian Police Commission is seeking a legal opinion on the temporary appointment," said Police Services Board Chair Nancy DiGregorio in a statement. "The board will reconvene the meeting once the commission has provided its opinion and direction to the board."
DiGregorio told CBC Hamilton that the Ministry saw Ferguson's appointment as unlawful because Whitehead is still technically a member of the board, even though he is suspended. The Ontario Civilian Police Commission has the final say on the matter, she says, and she's hoping to hear in the next couple of days what exactly the commission's direction will be.
"I definitely want to have this meeting sooner rather than later," DiGregorio said.
Ferguson's temporary appointment was reviewed by city solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski, who told CBC Hamilton she has not been given a specific reason by the ministry as to why the move was blocked.
"I'm not sure what the ministry's role is in interpreting the statute," Atwood-Petkovski said. "No one has said 'here, this is the contravention.'"
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Atwood-Petkovski says council has the power to temporarily appoint someone to the board if another councillor is unable to act. "From a black and white legal approach, this applies," she said.
Ferguson told CBC Hamilton that he found the move puzzling, as well. "I don't know why correctional services is wading into this," he said. "I'm sitting on the sidelines ready and willing to serve."
Ferguson had said he wanted to improve the relationship between the two bodies. He had planned to sit down with chair Nancy DiGregorio and Chief Glenn De Caire for some "quiet dialogue," he said.
"You can't keep punching each other," Ferguson said.
The relationship strain began earlier this year during a disagreement over the police budget. The initial draft asked for a 5.25-per cent increase over the year before. At council's request, the service eventually trimmed it to a 3.53-per cent increase.
The board is comprised of three city appointees, three provincial appointees and Mayor Bob Bratina. The board is keeping mum on the reason for Whitehead's suspension, citing the ongoing investigation.
Whitehead speculates accusations against him include public arguments with De Caire and former board appointee Jim Kay, as well as throwing some papers on a desk during a meeting and his candour with the media.
For now, he's just awaiting the results of the investigation.
"Basically under the legislation, when a probe is initiated, the individual that is the subject of that probe has to step aside from his responsibilities until the probe is concluded," he said.
Council narrowly passed a resolution Wednesday asking the province for either total control to appoint the board or for council to govern the service.