Ottawa police officers could drop out of community activities to protest 'double standard'

The union representing Ottawa police says there could be a drop in the number of rank-and-file officers attending community events, including the annual fall gala, as tensions rise between the Ottawa Police Association and the chief of police.

OPA president Matt Skof says there's a 'double standard' in the force

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau criticized Skof's conduct, calling it 'divisive' at a time when peace between the two organizations is paramount. (CBC News)

The union representing Ottawa police says there could be a drop in the number of rank-and-file officers attending community events, including the annual fall gala, as tensions rise between the Ottawa Police Association and the chief of police.

The latest strife between the two sides ramped up at the end of last week when OPA president Matt Skof said he was cutting ties with the police executive over what he said is a "double standard" in the treatment of some officers.

"The ongoing relationship between the OPA and the executive is unworkable," Skof wrote in his June 16 letter to police Chief Charles Bordeleau and Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, head of the Ottawa Police Services Board.

"I have directed my staff to no longer participate in joint committees that are not mandatory and other ceremonial joint events."

About a dozen union staff members and the board of directors officially severed ties following the letter and will no longer participate in joint committee meetings and community events.

Ottawa police annual gala could be affected

Skof said the move could encourage other officers to withdraw from participating in events like the Ottawa police annual gala, the Pride parade, and even badge ceremonies. The gala, a longstanding tradition for the city's police service, raised $100,000 for two local charities last year.

This year's gala will raise funds for Big Brothers & Sisters and Ottawa Victim Services.

The decision to not attend these types of events, Skof said, will be entirely up to individual officers. 

"Unless there's a change in decision-making from the police executive, we're, unfortunately, in a position where our continued participation will be halted at this time," Skof told CBC News on Saturday.

In an email to CBC, Ottawa Capital Pride said it neither requested nor expected the discontinuation of a police presence at this year's festival. 

"We respect and understand that this is an internal matter within Ottawa Police Services and not specific to our organization's relationship with [the Ottawa Police Service]," the organization said. 

Skof says he's severing ties with police executives because of the 'double standard' of treatment of officers. (CBC)

The relationship between the union and the police chief has been in turmoil over the last several months. 

Skof recently accused Bordeleau of giving special treatment to three senior police officers under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police for alleged criminal conduct.

In a rare move, Bordeleau asked the OPP commissioner last month to open a probe into accusations from an Ottawa defence lawyer that the three officers gave false statements during an investigation by the province's Special Investigations Unit. None of the officers has been charged. 

After learning the three officers weren't suspended from duty, Skof pointed fingers at Bordeleau, accusing him of giving them special treatment. Other officers in the past, Skof said, have been disciplined for less serious conduct. 

Your constant negative commentary only erodes our reputation …- Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau

Bordeleau did not answer questions from CBC News about the latest wrangling, but instead shared a copy of his letter to Skof. 

In the letter, the chief denied the claim that all officers facing an investigation or allegation are suspended or administratively moved and accused Skof of "creating divisions" with his comments. 

"In recent days and weeks you have stepped up your negative media strategies with commentary based on information that is simply not true," the chief wrote.

"Your constant negative commentary only erodes our reputation in the eyes of the community. It takes a toll on our members and on the confidence our community has in our service.

"If the OPA executive does not want to attend important events like the swearing in of new police officers or awards for members, that's your decision. However, I encourage you to revisit your decision to cut off ties to committees and work groups focused on issues that are very important to our members."

The chief ended the letter by offering to work together on their differences. 

'Regrettable' decision, says mayor

Mayor Jim Watson called the police association's decision to cut ties with the executive a "regrettable" one.

"The only way to resolve issues is dialogue and talking. And if you pull away from that, you're not really going to have a seat at the table to solve some of the issues we want to solve," Watson said Sunday.

Not attending badge ceremonies and other events could cause even more friction, he added.

"I don't think that helps morale in the police service when you have the police union president saying they're not going to do things like that — symbolic things, important things like that," he said.

"So I hope Mr. Skof re-evaulates that position. At the end of the day, we're all interested in a safe community. And in order to have a safe community, you have to have an effective police department."

With files from David Corrigan and Trevor Pritchard