Police board members call for Whitehead apology over critical comments

A meeting of the Hamilton Police Services Board got testy on Thursday over comments one member had made at a city council meeting.

Provincial appointees take offence at Terry Whitehead's comments about their value on the board

Coun. Terry Whitehead was called on to apologize for comments about the makeup of the Hamilton Police Services Board. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Police board members Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Coun. Lloyd Ferguson Thursday called on Coun. Terry Whitehead to apologize over comments he made criticizing citizen members of the board for how they carry out their duties.

The critical comments about the provincial appointees the three officials serve with on Hamilton's police services board came during a city council discussion in March about council having more say over policing.

A letter from retired police superintendent Warren Korol was read aloud in the board meeting Thursday. Korol opined that Whitehead had contravened the board's code of conduct by making comments that "creates a division in the board" and that he should apologize.

Stanley Tick, an attorney who sits on the board as one of the provincial appointees, agreed that the comments were "disrespectful" and that an apology would not be "good enough." 

"You are not supposed to speak derogatorily or against your fellow members on the board," Tick said.  "Our reputation is at stake."

'Deeply saddened'

The calls came after a heated discussion that lasted more than an hour Thursday, when board members Tick, Madeleine Levy and Don MacVicar each made lengthy, sometimes emotional, speeches about what skills and experiences they bring to the board.

Madeleine Levy, a member of the Hamilton Police Services Board, said she was "deeply saddened" by what she said was Whitehead's suggestion that she doesn't serve an important role on the board because she's a provincial appointee. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Levy said she was "deeply saddened." MacVicar told the board stories from his childhood and into his adult life, where he has made decisions to try to make his community better. 

All three took obvious offence to Whitehead's reported comments that the seats they occupy don't play strong roles in keeping police budgets down and don't "have skin in the game" to be accountable to their decisions in the public. 

Whitehead's comments stemmed from a city council meeting discussing a motion to bring the police service under city control. That motion passed at the council's March 9 meeting, 13-to-2, with Eisenberger and Ferguson opposed.

'I suggest you may have a little thin skin'

Korol quoted Whitehead's comments from a Hamilton Spectator column: "I'm going to say this, that the whole time I've been on the board, not once have I had a provincial appointee say that the budget is too high." 

Whitehead said his comments had been cherry-picked from a city "conversation about governance," and that his comments weren't meant to be personal attacks against the three members. He said if the appointees take that comment as a criticism, "then I suggest you may have a little thin skin." 

In Ontario, police boards are made up of elected officials and civilian members, and are charged with the responsibility of oversight

Councillors are the ones held accountable by the public for the decisions made, Whitehead said.

He said he did not mean to disrespect the "good work that the provincial members make and do at this table." "If that's the way it was taken, I apologize for that, absolutely," he said. 

Tick wasn't content to leave it there and made a motion to further discuss the matter, which could involve disciplinary action against Whitehead, in a private session before the next month's board meeting. That motion passed. 

New carding/street checks regulations: Wait a month

With that discussion out of the way, the discussion turned to Min. Yasir Naqvi's new provincial rules unveiled last week for how police can collect ID from people who aren't necessarily under investigation. 

Provincial public safety minister Yasir Naqvi, seen speaking at a Hamilton forum on carding and street checks in September, released new regulations last week that include specific tasks for police boards. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
That discussion was originally planned to be held in private — which CBC Hamilton raised questions about before the meeting. 

Ultimately, the board pulled the discussion into the public portion of the meeting. 

Acting Chief Eric Girt gave an overview of the regulation and said it was too early to get into specifics of the plans for the police and the board to comply with. Girt and top staff were directed to come to the next meeting, in April, with a full report on the regulation. 

In addition to jobs for police, the province gave boards specific tasks:

  • Figuring out policies for what document should be given to individuals whom police stop.
  • Codifying policies for data retention from street checks that were done in the past, as well as those to come. 
  • What reports they should require from the chief about the service's street checks or similar interactions. 

Ferguson, who chairs the board, said the board would wait for that presentation before it starts to digest any of its responsibilities. 

That still doesn't answer the question about why the board would rely on the police to tell the board how it should interpret its new provincial accountability roles. 

But Ferguson said after the next presentation, the board may decide to pursue legal advice independent of the opinions of the top police brass. 

Other discussions

One of the materials included in the board's packet for Thursday's meeting was a letter from the Durham Regional Police Services Board, pushing for a stronger role articulated for police services boards in Ontario. On Thursday, the Hamilton board voted to write its own letter endorsing that. 

The meeting agenda also included year-end reports about youth crime, paid duty, victims' services and an audit of Pan Am Games spending. You can find some highlights below and more detail in the agenda materials posted here.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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