Incoming police chief's baggage creates uphill battle, observers say
Eric Stubbs says he enjoyed working with Indigenous communities while at RCMP
Observers say Ottawa's incoming police chief comes with baggage from his time with the RCMP in British Columbia, which will force him to work even harder to gain the trust of racialized communities in Ottawa as he starts Thursday.
Eric Stubbs assumes command from Deputy Chief Steve Bell, who temporarily filled the gap left by former chief Peter Sloly — he quit his post in February amid fierce criticism of his force's handling of the Freedom Convoy protests.
Sloly, Ottawa's first Black police chief, was a self-described change agent seeking broad reform within the Ottawa Police Service, including addressing systemic racism within the ranks.
In the news conference last month announcing the assistant B.C. RCMP commander as the new chief, Stubbs said police forces have to adapt to working in "a different world" than five years ago, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and cryptocurrency alongside systemic racism.
The relationship between police and diverse communities continue to be fraught with challenges, and Stubbs will also face an uphill battle, observers told CBC.
When local residents begin to look into his past with the RCMP, his dealings with First Nations communities in B.C. are the first items to appear on a Google search.
"I think they've made a poor choice," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Indigenous leaders, including Phillip, have accused the RCMP of using needless paramilitary tactics as Mounties carried out court injunctions against blockade participants on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory in northern British Columbia.
When asked about his role in helping oversee the B.C. RCMP's crackdown on blockades of the pipeline construction site, Stubbs said policing resource-based protests was "very challenging" and "similar to the convoy."
"There's a team here that has ... really dedicated themselves to trying to resolve these things through talking and negotiating," said Stubbs, referring to his former officers in B.C.
"We've been successful in a lot of those cases, but often we do end up having to arrest people and some people are upset."
The Stubbs biography released by the Ottawa Police Services Board said he led the RCMP's response to "many high-profile protests related to the resource sector."
Stubbs cites history of working with Indigenous groups
Phillip also criticized Stubbs for not taking concerns seriously while meeting with the First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), a coalition of B.C.
The coalition would meet regularly with Stubbs to discuss its concerns about resource development projects.
"He would go through the motions of listening ... and went ahead and authorized the brutal actions that were undertaken," said Phillip, who was not consulted by the police board in Ottawa about Stubbs.
"And in my view, in his attitude was arrogant."
CBC reached out to Stubbs and the police board for comment about Phillip's remarks. Neither were available.
Stubbs has defended his relationships with Indigenous people by saying he served in 11 First Nations communities when he was younger, and went on to work on a number of committees and initiatives with Indigenous groups as he moved up the RCMP ladder.
"I enjoy it, working with the Indigenous communities," he said. "I've done it a lot and I'll continue to do so."
'An open mind and open heart'
Heidi Metcalfe said she's willing to give Stubbs a chance.
An Inuk member of the Ottawa Police Service's community equity council — but speaking personally and not on behalf of the council — Metcalfe said Stubbs's time with the RCMP is "a tough one because the relationship between RCMP and Inuit communities specifically is full of missteps and mistrust."
"Hearing that the new Ottawa police chief is RCMP, it is a concern, but I do have hopes for any new person coming in. I keep an open mind and open heart," Metcalfe said.
"My goal always, always, always is to create allies."
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Metcalfe said the council had hoped for a new police chief who has existing relationships with marginalized communities in Ottawa, and who understands the police's relationship with the city's Inuit community.
She said any new police chief should reach out "in a genuine way" to Ottawa's Indigenous community, which is diverse itself.
"I would like anybody who is doing work that affects the community to get to know the community."
'So many bad optics'
Robin Browne did not mince words. He said Stubbs should just quit, and the hiring process for a new police chief should start again with Ottawa's new city council having a say.
Browne is a co-lead with 613-819 Black Hub, a grassroots advocacy group with eyes on city hall and the police.
Browne echoed a criticism of the police board, saying they should have waited to hire the new chief. First, for the new city council to be sworn in — that happened Tuesday — and second, for the results of the ongoing public inquiry into the Freedom Convoy protests, set to be released next year.
Browne also criticized now-former police board chair, Eli El-Chantiry, who endorsed Mayor Mark Sutcliffe during his election campaign. This was also a criticism lobbed at Sutcliffe during the mayoral campaign.
"There were just so many bad optics," Browne said. "There's no repairing the loss of faith in that office if [Stubbs] comes in with all these circumstances."
Stubbs, who said he "went through a rigorous process" to be hired as police chief, believes the timing of his hiring does not change a principal goal: gaining the community's confidence.
As it pertains to Ottawa's various racialized communities, Browne said Stubbs has his work cut out for him.
Trust in local police was already low before the Freedom Convoy protests, Browne said, because of their involvement in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man, during a violent arrest by two Ottawa police officers in 2016.
Throw in Sloly's resignation and Stubbs's role in policing the Wet'suwet'en blockades and "the level of trust is so low given, again, the way they rushed to hire," Browne said.
Bringing police leadership 'into order'
Sloly also oversaw an effort to rethink the way Ottawa officers respond to calls involving mental health — a factor at play in the deaths of Abdi and Greg Ritchie, an Indigenous man shot and killed by police at Elmvale Shopping Centre in 2019.
Police reform became "so much of the promise" of Sloly's hire, according to Jeffrey Monaghan of Carleton University's Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, but now the force starts over with a new leader and "time will tell" what his priorities will be.
Monaghan said he doesn't think Stubbs is a "protest squasher," but rather calls him an "old-school cop."
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"[He's] going to bring discipline to the forces and is someone who's going to be able to take the upper echelons of the police command and bring them into order," said Monaghan.
"What we've seen at the [public inquiry] is that the Ottawa Police Service is highly disorganized and fractured, especially at the top."
- A previous version of this story did not explain how Eli El-Chantiry was an honourary co-chair of Mark Sutcliffe's campaign.Nov 17, 2022 10:51 AM ET
- An earlier version of this story said Abdirahman Abdi was shot. No firearms were used during his arrest.Nov 17, 2022 8:14 AM ET
With files from Radio-Canada's Frédéric Pepin