Former Ottawa police exec sues for $2.7M, and airs some dirty laundry
Lawsuit yet another blow to Ottawa Police Services Board in an already tumultuous year
A former Ottawa police civilian executive is suing his former employer for upwards of $2.7 million, claiming he was unfairly dismissed last year after an anonymous email alleged he wasn't paying taxes on a take-home vehicle.
In the lawsuit, former chief administrative officer Jeff Letourneau alleges he was offered a vehicle at the start of a new job at the force, and used it transparently during a later contract dispute about the vehicle.
The document casts a shadow on the inner workings of the police force, mentioning a now-retired inspector's alleged medical leave and harassment complaint following a clash with then chief of police Peter Sloly (who resigned last month amid accusations of bullying and volatile behaviour).
And Letourneau suggests his dismissal was at least partially motivated by the friendship between then police board chair Coun. Diane Deans and a now-retired police inspector, whom Letourneau had sour dealings with. He also insinuates that inspector could have been the source of the anonymous email that led to his termination.
The suit comes on the heels of a tumultuous start to the year for the Ottawa Police Services Board. In the past two months a deputy chief resigned while suspended on allegations of sexual assault; Sloly resigned from the force over the handling of a weeks-long protest blocking downtown streets in the shadow of Parliament Hill; Deans was ousted as chair of the board in the middle of the internationally watched crisis for efforts to replace Sloly; and most of the board's members resigned in protest or amid scandal.
Police union calls for investigation
Letourneau was terminated from his position after a unanimous decision by the police board in April 2021, which followed the anonymous email sent to Ottawa's mayor and city councillors a few weeks earlier.
The email raised questions about taxes Letourneau had paid in recent years compared to other senior Ottawa police members with take-home vehicles.
Days after the anonymous email, Ottawa police union president Matt Skof wrote a letter to the police board chair, mayor and police chief, saying he'd been made aware of the anonymous complaint, looked into its claims, and wanted a formal investigation to be done.
Using information from Ontario's Sunshine List, Skof noted Letourneau earned more than $242,000 as the chief administrative officer with a service vehicle in 2020, and reported only $1,060 in taxable benefits. But his predecessor, who earned roughly the same and also used a service vehicle, reported more than $12,000 in taxable benefits in 2018.
Take-home vehicle at issue in contract dispute, claim alleges
In Letourneau's statement of claim against the police board, filed in Ontario Superior Court on Feb. 23, he alleges he was offered a new service vehicle when he was appointed acting director general in March 2019 under former chief Charles Bordeleau. He declined the offer to save the force some money, the claim states, and instead suggested taking over his predecessor's service vehicle when she retired, which he did.
That summer, Letourneau was hired as chief administrative officer — the same job as director general but with a new title — and was presented a contract for a fixed five-year term. Instead of a take-home vehicle, benefits in the contract included $575 a month for expenses incurred using a personal vehicle for work.
Letourneau disagreed with the allowance and wanted to continue using his predecessor's take-home vehicle, but the claim states he signed the contract anyway to meet the board's timeline for announcing his hire.
The claim alleges Letourneau "expressed his expectation that the service vehicle issue would be subject to further negotiations."
Taxable benefit deferred, claim alleges
Discussions in the fall with the police board provided no resolution, however, and in December he wrote to then police chief Sloly who said he'd bring up the matter with the board, according to the claim.
That same month, the city's payroll manager contacted Letourneau about his taxable benefits. Letourneau advised that his contract was still under review, and the claim alleges the manager proposed to defer the taxable vehicle benefit to the following year, pending a resolution.
In January 2020, chief Sloly told Letourneau to put off discussing the vehicle issue due to workload, the claim states. Letourneau planned to bring it up in his 2020 performance review, according to the claim, but no such review occurred prior to his termination in April 2021.
Meanwhile, the board wasn't paying Letourneau's contracted salary or monthly vehicle allowance — he was continuing to openly use his predecessor's vehicle — and he didn't receive an executed contract from the board, according to the claim.
In early April 2021, then board chair Deans sent Letourneau the anonymous email questioning the taxable benefits on his take-home vehicle. Letourneau offered to meet with Deans, according to the claim, but Deans declined, and asked instead that he stop using the vehicle and respond to the allegations in writing.
In his reply days later, Letourneau confirmed he'd been using the vehicle during the contract dispute and he'd returned it the day Deans wrote to him, according to the claim.
"Mr. Letourneau explained that his use of the service vehicle had been open, transparent, and consistent with his understanding that there were unresolved issues relating to the terms and conditions of his employment," the claim states.
Later that month, Deans and the city's human resources director called to say he'd been terminated for unauthorized use of a service vehicle and for failing to disclose a taxable benefit on that vehicle.
The statement of claim alleges no investigation had been done, Letourneau hadn't been formally or informally disciplined, and that he hadn't received a verbal or written warning prior to his termination.
The claim also alleges the board dismissed Letourneau "at least in part, in retaliation" following a dispute with then Ottawa police Insp. Pat Flanagan (who retired in May 2021 and is a member of a prominent policing family in the city).
After an alleged "disagreement" between Flanagan and then chief Sloly in a meeting sometime around October 2020 — which resulted in Flanagan taking medical leave and filing a harassment complaint against Sloly, according to the claim — Sloly asked Letourneau to manage Flanagan, the claim states.
Letourneau repeatedly tried reaching out to see that Flanagan's own service vehicle was returned to the force, and to obtain documents for the medical leave, according to the claim.
Honoured to have served 37+ years with the Ottawa Police Service. Time to call it a day. <a href="https://t.co/TMgXjzlxcg">pic.twitter.com/TMgXjzlxcg</a>—@pflanagan10451
Deans then called Letourneau around December 2020 to say Flanagan had agreed to retire in January 2021 if Sloly agreed to certain terms, which were not specified in the statement of claim. Letourneau replied that some of the terms would conflict with the collective agreement, and the police union would have to agree to them.
The claim states Deans asked Letourneau to handle it and no longer involve her.
Meanwhile, efforts to obtain Flanagan's take-home vehicle continued, and the claim alleges the situation came to a head around February 2021, when "Flanagan threatened to 'take [Mr. Letourneau] down'" in a conversation with Supt. Joan McKenna.
Flanagan "further advised that he 'knew about [Letourneau's] vehicle issue and would take it to the Board unless [Mr. Letourneau] backed off,'" the claim alleges.
The next month, the anonymous email about Letourneau's take-home vehicle and taxable benefits was sent to the mayor and city council, requesting an investigation.
None of the allegations in Letourneau's claim has been tested in court.
Retired inspector denies accusations
In text messages to CBC News, Flanagan denied the claim's allegation that he threatened Letourneau and the insinuation that he wrote an email about him.
"I will state that at no point did I ever threaten to 'take down' Jeff Letourneau. Nor did I ever provide the office of the mayor with any correspondence — email or otherwise, on any subject matter related to Jeff Letourneau," the texts read.
"He's barking up the wrong tree!"
Flanagan declined to clarify matters further.
Reached by phone, one of Letourneau's lawyers, Janice Payne, said she and her client have no other comment to make.
Deans also declined to comment, her office wrote in an email.
Police board chair Eli El-Chantiry wrote in an email that he can't comment on ongoing litigation.
Lawyers for the Ottawa Police Services Board have filed a notice of intent to defend.