Diane Deans ousted from oversight board in overhaul of Ottawa's police leadership

One day after Ottawa's police chief resigned in the midst of historic civil unrest, city council voted to overhaul the police board and remove chair Diane Deans in a meeting full of high drama and vitriolic accusations.

Meanwhile, former Waterloo chief offered job as interim Ottawa police chief: sources

Watch Wednesday’s contentious council meeting in 7 minutes

1 year ago
Duration 7:08
Ottawa city council voted to overhaul the police services board Wednesday night amid the ongoing occupation of the downtown core, leading to accusations of political posturing and calls for the mayor to resign.

UPDATE: Matt Torigian withdrew his candidacy Thursday after speaking to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, and said he wouldn't seek compensation.

One day after Ottawa's police chief resigned in the midst of historic civil unrest, city council voted to overhaul the police board and remove chair Diane Deans in a meeting full of high drama and vitriolic accusations. 

The surprise move was labelled as a way to "restore public trust" nearly three weeks into protests that have rocked the capital.

But in a council term that has seen years of divisiveness and petty moments, many councillors characterized this move as a "political stunt" and said they were "disgusted" by Mayor Jim Watson, with a few even calling for him to resign.

"You're destabilizing the oversight body for Ottawa Police in the middle of the biggest crisis in this city's history," charged Deans. "That is being ridiculously political."

Following a vote of 15 to nine, Deans will be replaced by one of council's longest serving members and close allies of the mayor, former police board chair Eli El-Chantiry

The police services board is set to meet Thursday to elect a new chair to replace Deans, a seven-term councillor who plans to run for mayor

The motion, put forward by councillors Scott Moffatt and Laura Dudas, suggested the board had "not been effective" in its oversight of the police.

An interim board "with more experience with emergency operations" would let Steve Bell, who has been serving as police chief for a day, end the on-going illegal protests.

At the heart of the dispute — one of the ugliest seen during this term of council — was the leaked news that the board had swiftly hired an interim police chief from outside the city without a competition, and without telling council.

"We have an individual, who was a former chief, who's going to come to Ottawa — who obviously doesn't know our city — in the midst of the biggest crisis in our city's history, and he's bringing a bunch of consultants with him," Watson told reporters after the seven-hour council meeting.

"How much is this costing? How did this individual get chosen? Who are these consultants they're bringing? There are a lot of questions. And I think a lot of people thought they had lost confidence in the police board."

But a number of council members charged that the move was not about a loss of confidence in the board. Deans and the mayor have sparred on many occasions. Recently, he criticized her for trying to trim the increase to the 2022 police budget.

"You know what makes me the saddest of all?" asked Deans as the vote approached. "You're unseating a progressive board that was bringing about important and progressive change in policing in Ottawa. And you're going back to the 1950s... and old-school law and order."

Coun. Rawlson King, council's first and only Black member and the police service's co-chair of the community equity council, made it clear he stood with Deans. He defended the police services board, saying it had asked the "toughest questions" during three weeks of disruptive protest. 

King announced his own resignation during the council meeting. His announcement stymied his colleagues' plan to overhaul the board with King playing a "key role" in consulting with communities who have been "over-policed."

Many councillors pleaded with King to stay on the board. Coun. Mathieu Fleury, close to tears, told King he's been "the moral leader" of council. 

King refused, and will be replaced by Coun. Jeff Leiper.

Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, one of the council members who asked Watson to step down, had been named in the motion as a member who should be removed from the board. Although she narrowly survived a vote to replace her with Coun. Jan Harder, Meehan resigned in solidarity with Deans at the end of the meeting.

New interim chief hired

When Peter Sloly suddenly announced his resignation as police chief Tuesday in the face of criticism from the public and allegedly within his own force, Bell was announced interim chief.

But CBC learned Wednesday the board had decided to replace Sloly with Matthew Torigian, who has now signed a contract for the job. 

Torigian, a police chief with the Waterloo Region until 2014 and deputy minister for community safety and correctional services under Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government, has been hired on a short-term contract that expires at the end of 2022 and that can be terminated earlier if all parties agree.

During debate, however, it was clear that many of Deans's council colleagues were frustrated by the decision.

Matt Torigian has been offered a short-term contract to replace Peter Sloly as Ottawa's interim police chief. (Matthew Kang/CBC)

This quick hire, which councillors said hadn't been properly vetted, was being made in a "frantic way," said Dudas.

Harder, who used to sit on the board, said, "This stupidity by the board has destabilized this place, more than Sloly resigning. It was absolutely irresponsible to hire some random guy who hasn't policed in eight years. In eight years. Without any consultation."

Deans countered city council had no authority to hire a new chief, and said that job rested solely with the police services board. She said the force's executive needed the help, and the board needed to act quickly.

Board allowed to hire new chief

Under the Ontario Police Services Act, the board can indeed "recruit and appoint the chief of police and any deputy chief of police and determine their remuneration and working conditions." 

It was clear that many members of council back Bell in the role of chief. Deans said he is still well-positioned to become the permanent chief, but the local police leadership needed more and urgent help.

And Deans charged that the move to oust her was "an opportunity to try and deflect away from the mayor, who made in my estimation just a horrendous decision to negotiate with terrorists."

On Sunday, Watson announced he had a deal with some of the convoy leaders to move vehicles out of the residential areas. The mayor had promised that if the trucks were moved, he'd meet with organizer Tamara Lich, but that won't happen because many trucks are still clogging parts of the downtown. 

Even before council met at 4 p.m., the police services board's vice-chair, citizen member Sandy Smallwood, also confirmed he had resigned due to public statements from El-Chantiry that the board didn't support the police during the protest. Council voted that he be replaced by Suzanne Valiquet, a marketing consultant and former member of the board.