Six Nations police commission chair refuses to resign despite call from elected council

The chair of the Six Nations Police Commission is refusing to resign from his position after the elected council publicly called for him to step down.

'I don’t have a clue why they’re doing this,' says Steve Williams

The Six Nations of the Grand River elected council is calling for police commission chair Steve Williams to step down, but hasn't said why. (Six Nations Police/Facebook)

The chair of the Six Nations Police Commission is refusing to resign from his position after the elected council publicly called for him to step down.

In a  media release dated June 24 the elected council for Six Nations of the Grand River asked Steve Williams to resign — but did not say why.

The release says only that the call was meant to "ensure accountability and transparency and make it clear that there can be no conflict of interest, or perceived or otherwise in such important roles."

However, it did not provide any further details as to any specific reason why he should resign.

Reached by phone Monday, Williams said council's letter caught him by surprise, he doesn't know the reason either and he's now exploring his legal options.

"I don't have a clue why they're doing this," he explained. "I have no intention of resigning anyway." 

Council references 'difficult decisions'

A spokesperson for the elected council said more information would be provided once it becomes available. Neither Chief Mark Hill nor any council members responded to a request for an interview.

The release states council's call "speaks to good governance" and sustainability of Six Nations institutions, adding it continues to support Six Nations Police.

"As we move forward, it is important that we have the trust of the community that we will make difficult decisions in order to develop and build stronger services in our community," it reads.

The police commission is made up of community members who act as a supervisory body for the police service, according to its website.

Williams said it's his understanding the commission met without him following the letter from council, asked it to explain its position within two weeks and selected a new chair to take his place until the situation is sorted out. 

The independent body was set up in the 1980s and intentionally kept at arms-length from council to protect it from political interference, he added, noting he has three years left in his term and intends to remain on the commission whether he's chair or not.

"[Why] they sent this letter? I have no idea. But they don't have any authority over me because I'm a community member and the commission itself is the one that appoints me as chair."

While it's not clear exactly why the council is calling for Williams to be removed, Tim Mt. Pleasant, a Six Nations member, said there have been community concerns about the fact he holds the position of chair.

Mt. Pleasant filed a complaint in April following reports of a party said to have been hosted by Ken Hill, a prominent Six Nations businessman and owner of Grand River Enterprises (G.R.E.) after barricades had been put in pace to seal off the reserve to protect elders from non-members who could be carrying COVID-19.

The allegation from some in the community is that people who don't live on the reserve were able to sneak past the barricades somehow, he explained.

Mt. Pleasant said his complaint included concerns "around violating community trust and elected council and the confederacy chiefs support of the barricades" as well as "questions about oversight of the police and what that looks like and if they were willing to or able to do a review of the situation."

Six Nations workers built and raised road closed signs to alert drivers after officials moved to close off the reserve during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Mt.Pleasant's concerns then grew to include Williams's presence as chair of the police commission given his connections in the community, he explained.

Williams is also the chief electoral officer for the elected council and the president of G.R.E. The two exchanged emails following the initial complaint.

For Mt. Pleasant, "This was about the party of Kenny Hill where the chair of the police commission is the president of G.R.E. addressing complaints about a party thrown by one of the stakeholders of G.R.E.," he explained.

However, neither he nor Williams knows for certain that that is the issue that prompted the call to resign.

Mt. Pleasant said he does not want to "attack" Williams as a person, and instead is looking to address issues with optics and integrity instead.

"I agree with it from the perspective of it shouldn't be one person in all of these positions of perceived power," he said. "There are other people that can segregate some of these duties."

Mt. Pleasant also noted Ken Hill is related to Chief Mark Hill, though he was quick to point out he believes the chief "acknowledges the conflict and stays our of issues that may be seen to be optically, ethically challenging."

Chief spoke about personal conflict

Chief Hill appeared to address concerns stemming from the party during a radio update on April 21.

"Make no mistake and believe me when I say I remain committed to openness, accountability and transparency and do not condone or support in any way shape or form the actions taken Saturday April 18th to host large gatherings in our territory," he said at the time.

"This is about openness and so although I am in a conflict with the person who held the one gathering, I will do everything I can to support the elected council and the Six Nations Police to enforce the law."

Later in the broadcast Hill also referenced his role as chief and "having some issues internally with my family," describing the situation as "difficult times."

Mark Hill, elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, spoke about transparency and conflict of interest during a radio update on April 21. (Mark Hill)

Missing information and a 'great unknown'

Williams said he understands Mt. Pleasant's concerns, but pointed out "G.R.E. did not host the party, I wasn't at the party. I wouldn't go to the party anyway."

"I've been with G.R.E. for almost 25 years and I've been on the commission almost 18 years," he added. "So why is it now coming forward that there's an issue?"

Following the party, Williams said the Six Nations police chief asked the elected council whether they wanted to follow the provincial guidelines for or set up their own bylaws and regulations around COVID-19, but claimed they never responded.

"We can't charge somebody if we don't have something in place saying charge them or not charge them," he said.

As for the number of prominent positions he holds in the community, Williams said he sits on so many boards because no one else volunteers to do so.

Mt. Pleasant said he can't be sure if council's statement was a response to his complaint. The lack of detailed information from council and questions about whether or not Chief Hill was part of the decision to ask for Williams to step down or if he declared a conflict of interest means there's a "great unknown."

"There's some information that's missing," said Mr. Pleasant. "The community, I think, understands what the call for the resignation is about. But there's nothing spelled out in the letter so I don't know what the discussion was at council."