Chief Bryan Larkin calls officer's suspension with pay 'simply unfair'

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin is asking for changes to the provincial law that guarantees a paycheque for police officers who have been suspended from duty, a law he calls "simply unfair."

Ex constable Craig Markham boasted about golfing and travelling while he was suspended

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says Ontario is the only province in Canada that has a law guaranteeing a paycheque for police officers who have been suspended from active duty, something he thinks is unfair. (Colin Butler/CBC )

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin is asking for changes to an Ontario law that guarantees a steady paycheque to officers who have been suspended from duty, a rule he calls "simply unfair."

Larkin's call for change comes after Craig Markham, a former constable with the force, sent a "thank you" note boasting of his lifestyle while on a three-year suspension with pay, a time he says he used "to sit home, take courses, travel and play lots of golf," all on the public dime. 

"I am very thankful and fortunate to have received such a nice gift from [the Waterloo Regional Police Service] over the last three years," Markham wrote in a March 27 email to the force's lawyer. "You have opened up doors for me and have paid me to sit back and watch. What a dream come true."

"It's offensive," Larkin said of the email, which he presented at a July 8 meeting of the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board. "I wouldn't say I was angry, I would say I'm disappointed or disheartened and you have to ask, how did this happen?" 

Confidential police information

Markham, who was a nine-year veteran of the force, was found guilty of breach of trust in connection with a September 2011 incident where he passed on confidential police information to a civilian about a man who investigators believed had connections to the Hells Angels. 

​The man had been arrested on drug charges, documents from the Ontario Civilian Police Commission show, and Markham not only visited the man in his cell but also copied a confidential police synopsis about the drug investigation and emailed it to an acquaintance, who was not a member of the force. 

During the course of the investigation, police found that Markham had also made "several unauthorized queries about various individuals" through the force's internal database. 

Markham later pleaded guilty to two counts of insubordination, two counts of discreditable conduct and one count of breach of trust. 

He was given seven days to resign or face termination at a January 2014 police disciplinary hearing, a decision Markham appealed to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. 

The appeal was heard nine months later, in September 2014, with a decision released on Feb. 13, 2015. In its decision, the OCPC upheld the decision of the police disciplinary hearing that Markham resign within seven days or face termination. 

Five days after the OCPC's decision, Markham resigned from the force on Feb. 18, but not without getting in the last word by writing the March 27 email, a document the Waterloo chief has now made public.  

Why change is needed

"We felt there was a compelling public interest to share this with the community from a transparency perspective," Larkin said. "We hope this provides the minister and the Ministry of Community Safety an opportunity to say 'you know what? Here's a compelling reason of why change is needed.'"

The change being proposed by Larkin is giving Ontario's police chiefs more authority to suspend officers without pay in certain circumstances.

Ontario is currently the only province in Canada where police officers are automatically guanteed a paycheque if they are suspended from duty. Under the province's Police Services Act, chiefs can only suspend an officer without pay if they are serving time in prison.  

"There are some behaviours that warrant taking action," Larkin said. "In my view this is one of them."

'Chiefs at times suspend too quickly'

"We find the chiefs at times, suspend too quickly," Paul Perchaluk, the president of the Waterloo Regional Police Association, who does not support Larkin's call for greater powers for chiefs to suspend officers without pay.

Waterloo Regional Police Association president Paul Perchaluk says chiefs are often too quick to suspend officers, as the vast majority of complaints against police officers are unsubstantiated. (Colin Butler/CBC )

"You've got to realize that most of the complaints against police are unfounded," he said, noting that in 2014 there were 2,657 complaints against police officers in Ontario, but only 72 required further investigation. 

"Our officers should be paid when they're on suspension," he said. "Craig Markham was on suspension for three years and without pay, you could basically starve the man out." 

Markham, however, was hardly starving. The Waterloo Regional Police Service estimates that Markham received $450,000 in salary, benefits, pension and sick leave throughout the course of his three-year suspension from duty. 

Markham boasted of using his publicly paid compensation to take trips to the beach, even pay for training for his new job as a firefighter, which he says he started May 1.

Frustration with system

"He admitted that basically he was frustrated," Perchaluk said of the email. "Again it's the frustation with the system, the amount of time it takes to get through the system is the hardest and basically I think he was telling everyone that this takes way too long."

Perchaluk said officers who are suspended with pay should be doing administrative duties.

Larkin counters that in Markham's case, a man convicted of breach of trust, it simply doesn't make sense. 

"What are they going to do in the service when you breach trust, when you provide confidential information?"