Amid controversy, police board says it will announce new police chief Friday
Press conference is set for 2 p.m.
Amid controversy this week over the search for a new police chief, the police services board has announced it's pushing ahead with its plan to hire a new chief before a new council's determined — and will be announcing the city's new chief Friday.
The board issued a press release on Thursday inviting media to register for the press conference at 2 p.m.
Ottawa's last police chief Peter Sloly resigned eight months ago at the height of the convoy occupation in the city's downtown. Deputy chief Steven Bell has been acting in the position since then.
Briefly in February, the board was poised to hire another chief, but that process ended in a dramatic overhaul of the board and the candidate withdrawing. That event has been dissected this week at the public inquiry into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act.
Following Sloly's resignation, Coun. Diane Deans was removed from her role as chair of the board, after she offered up the job of interim chief without consulting council. In the wake of that upheaval, Bell stayed on in the job.
Some board members resigned to protest Dean's ousting. Then, three provincial members of the board resigned on March 2, following questions about reports that one of them, Robert Swaita, had attended the convoy protest as a supporter.
Those vacancies were replaced in March, when the province appointed three new members: Michael Doucet, Salim Fakirani and Peter Henschel.
El-Chantiry told CBC earlier this month these appointees "were recently appointed for a further three-year term" — until 2025, which, he said, will bring stability to the board.
2 mayoral candidates against move
Earlier this week, mayoral candidates Bob Chiarelli and Catherine McKenney wrote to the civilian police oversight body asking that it look into the board's decision to hire a new chief before the new city council is sworn in on Nov. 15.
In a letter to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, they asked that it investigate a "potential conflict" as the board chair is an honourary co-chair of Mark Sutcliffe's campaign — they say Sutcliffe is the only leading mayoral candidate to support hiring a new chief now.
In Thursday's release by the board, it acknowledged "the board is aware that there are candidates in the municipal election suggesting that the recruitment process for a new chief of police should have been put on hold."
"The board takes this opportunity to remind the candidates, and clarify for the public, that the Police Services Board is a distinct and separate body from City Council, created by …the Police Services Act," it continued.
It goes on to say the majority of the board's members are not drawn from city council — there are civilian members and that the commission has already confirmed the board is not subservient to municipal council.
The board says by hiring a chief now it's setting the next board up for success because it's worked "very hard" to select a chief.
Hiring now is 'shameful'
On Thursday evening McKenney responded to word of a new hire by saying they're ready to work with the new chief, but still disagree with the timing.
"Announcing a new chief days before voters choose their new mayor and council, while the inquiry into the occupation is underway, can only be described in one way: shameful," McKenney said in the release.
Earlier in the week, McKenney and Chiarelli said in their letter it was "common sense" to wait until the new council is in place and all police witnesses have testified at the Emergencies Act inquiry — all of which would provide information that would be pertinent to the board's hiring decision.
Chiarelli and McKenney said it would be worth waiting until a new council is sworn in as who's voted in will better reflect what residents want now and will result in several new members on the police board.
Early Friday morning, Sutcliffe's campaign sent a statement from Sutcliffe that also pointed to the independence of the board and process.
"It is critical for community trust that this process be free of political interference," said Sutcliffe in the statement.
This week the inquiry has been hearing from police about the weeks-long occupation that took over Ottawa's downtown.
The inquiry said Bell will likely testify on Monday.
However, in a follow-up letter to the commission, the current board chair, outgoing councillor Eli El-Chantiry, has pointed out that it is the board's statutory obligation to hire a new chief — not council's.
He wrote that the new board likely wouldn't convene until late 2022 or early 2023, which would make hiring a new chief before the spring unlikely.
"It is unacceptable for the police service and it is unacceptable for the community to not have a confirmed permanent chief for over a year," he wrote.
Defending its move to hire a new chief before the end of its term, the board said it had held a "thorough and well-attended public consultation process."
"The board was also very proud to have selected a firm entirely run by racialized community members to design and implement the consultation strategy," the release said.
McKenney and Chiarelli question the consultation process in their letter, calling it poorly attended.
The firm that was selected to design the consultation was also subject to concerns when it was announced. The six-person team was made up of three members that also sat on the police service's Community Equity Council.
While council members are unpaid and do not accept honorariums for the work they undertake in that role, this consultation contract was the second public contract with ties to the police force that it received.