Hamilton police board chair disciplined for 'unfortunate,' 'unfair' comments

An independent police oversight agency has ruled that Hamilton police board chair Lloyd Ferguson breached the code of conduct for police board members by making "unfortunate" and "unfair" comments in local radio interviews.

'This is especially of concern in a matter that involves a member of a racialized community': OCPC

Lloyd Ferguson is a city councillor representing Ancaster, and is chair of the Hamilton police services board. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

An independent police oversight agency has ruled Hamilton police board chair Lloyd Ferguson breached the code of conduct for police board members when he made "unfortunate" and "unfair" comments in local radio interviews.

Ferguson agreed with the ruling, admitted responsibility and expressed remorse, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission said.

This is especially of concern in a matter that involves a member of a  racialized  community and a larger policy issue that Mr. Ferguson knew to be of importance to members of that community.- Ontario Civilian Police Commission and Lloyd Ferguson agreed statement of facts

Ferguson, who also serves as Ward 12 councillor, plans to issue a public statement and publicly apologize and retract his comments, according to the decision dated Monday.

The investigation related to a complaint filed by Coun. Matthew Green over comments Ferguson made in radio interviews on CHML earlier this year about the topic of "carding" or street checks, a practice of police stopping and collecting ID from someone not under investigation.

The decision found:

  • Ferguson's comments suggested that the board, which is to remain impartial as it oversees police governance and discipline, was tilted in favour of defending police officers
  • Ferguson misunderstood his and the board's role regarding an ongoing disciplinary proceeding 
  • Ferguson didn't clarify that his criticism of new provincial laws on carding was his own opinion and not that of the board, which is responsible for ensuring the rules are followed in Hamilton
  • Ferguson's comments were unfair to Green 

'Obvious lack of understanding of his role and responsibilities'

At the time of Ferguson's comments, Green, the city's first black councillor, had launched a complaint against the police, contending he was racially profiled by an officer who stopped him in April 2016. That complaint is the subject of an ongoing disciplinary hearing.

In a statement to CBC News about the decision, Green criticized the timing of Ferguson's suspension coinciding with the holidays, but said he was grateful the OCPC decision accounted for ways in which Ferguson's comments could leave an impression that the disciplinary process was tainted. 

"I am unsettled in [Ferguson's] obvious lack of understanding of his role and responsibilities as board chair and the potential impact it has on the overall governance of the Hamilton Police Service," Green said.

In a statement Tuesday, Ferguson said he takes his duties as a councillor and board chair "very seriously."

In the two radio appearances, he said, "I let my passion for policing and public safety and my utmost respect for the hardworking men and women of Hamilton Police Service, overshadow my duties as a member of the board."

"For this I apologize to Matthew Green and any other people who may be offended by my remarks," the statement continued. "I would like to formally rescind the comments made on the radio show and look forward to returning to the board and resuming my duties as chair."

Comments suggested that the board was not impartial

Ferguson's suggestion on the radio that the officer was just "doing his job" suggested that he and the board he chairs were not impartial, according to the OCPC decision.

"This created a risk that, regardless of the result, the public might lose confidence in the disciplinary proceeding at issue and in the process as a whole," the OCPC decision states.

"This is especially of concern in a matter that involves a member of a racialized community and a larger policy issue that Mr. Ferguson knew to be of importance to members of that community."

Black, Brown and Red Lives Matter supporters react during a discussion about street checks at a Hamilton Police Services board meeting on Thursday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The OCPC outlines several times in 2015 and 2016 when members of the public came to speak to the board about the street checks, contending they were discriminatory against communities of colour.

"I am ... grateful for the decision's account of the impact on the various community groups who were also maligned by [Ferguson's] public statements," Green said. 

He said he hopes the province gives better training and orientation to police board members and especially to chairs and vice-chairs.

Three-week suspension

The OCPC imposed a penalty of three weeks' suspension from the board, which began when the investigation launched in December and ended Monday.

The OCPC and Ferguson released an agreed statement of facts, which acknowledged the chair breached this code of conduct provision: "Board members shall refrain from engaging in conduct that would discredit or compromise the integrity of the police force."

A lawyer for Green, Wade Poziomka, said the three-week suspension and promised apology was an appropriate resolution.

"It appears [Ferguson] now recognizes the impact of his comments," Poziomka told CBC News in a statement. "I hope that Councillor Ferguson's public apology will be meaningful and reflect genuine regret and we can put this matter behind us and move forward."

Coun. Matthew Green spoke with his lawyer, Wade Poziomka, before a Police Services Act hearing on his complaint began last September. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The issue stems from instances last June when Ferguson talked on local radio about an incident involving Green in April 2016, after decrying the "publicity and negative attention towards police" as a result of the carding criticism.

Green was waiting for a bus on a Tuesday afternoon in April 2016 when he was stopped and questioned by Const. Andrew Pfeifer. Pfeifer was charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act on the allegation he was "engaging in an arbitrary and unjustified street check" of Green.

Ferguson discussed the then-upcoming hearing on Kelly's show.

"You know, we have the one situation, and I can't talk about it, but it involves a city councillor," Ferguson said on Kelly's show. "And that's going before adjudication (a discipline hearing). But it ended up in an officer being, having charges placed against him for doing his job."

That hearing is ongoing pending a decision by a hearing officer.

Ferguson 'misunderstood his and the board's role'

The OCPC and Ferguson's agreed statement of facts stresses that disciplinary hearings must be impartial, fair and effective, and the police board and its members shouldn't do anything to undermine that.

The decision says Ferguson's comments were "unfair" to Green and created a perception that his complaint didn't have merit.

Ferguson also apologized for comments he made to CBC News about seeing his role as defending the members of the police force.

At a meeting after he was suspended last month, Ferguson "explained that he had misunderstood his and the board's role with respect to the proceeding." He said he would be more careful talking about ongoing proceedings in the future.

Kayonne Christy, one of the organizers of an anti-racism march on Dec. 1, 2014, read a list of demands the group submitted to Hamilton police that day, including to end the practice of "carding". (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The OCPC also focused on Ferguson's stance on the province's regulations regarding street checks, suggesting that Hamilton is less safe as a result.

"In his meeting with [OCPC] counsel, Mr. Ferguson recognized that before making these comments, he should have taken great care to make clear that these were his personal views and not the views of the board which is tasked with ensuring that this regulation is implemented in Hamilton," the decision states.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.