Police union's plan to endorse candidates illegal: lawyer
The Ottawa Police Association's plan to endorse candidates for mayor and city council in this November's municipal election is "totally illegal," says a lawyer fighting to keep police out of politics.
"You don't want the police in effect controlling the politicians who are supposed to be controlling them," said Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland, who argues that police, like those in the army and judicial system, are expected to remain politically neutral.
It's the first time in its history that the Ottawa union representing police officers plans to endorse political candidates.
|Police Services Act|
|Political Activity, Sec. 46 |
No municipal police officer shall engage in political activity, except as the regulations permit.
Source: Police Services Act
At mayoral candidate Terry Kilrea's campaign kickoff Tuesday, Charles Momy, the police union's president, stood at the side of the stage, clearly pleased at the candidate's speech.
"We urgently need more police officers patrolling our streets," Kilrea told a cheering crowd.
Momy later told CBC News he was frustrated the city has fewer officers now than before amalgamation.
"I'm glad to hear him talk about those statistics, and how we have failed as a city to provide the right policing standards in today's world," Momy said.
Toronto's police union has endorsed political candidates, supporting John Tory in the last mayoral race and even taking out a full-page ad in the Globe and Mail to support the provincial Conservatives under Ernie Eves.
But that came to a halt in 2004 after a legal opinion requested by the city's police services board determined that the political endorsements were illegal under the Police Services Act.
The board passed a policy requiring the police chief to discipline officers who endorse or oppose political candidates, and the union discontinued its endorsements.
Copeland is calling on Ottawa to follow suit.
"They should be, in my view, taking a very strong position that this is illegal activity and is inappropriate under the legislation in Ontario," said Copeland.
Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Eli El-Chantiry said he wants to hear how the province interprets the Police Services Act.
"If we know we're breaking the law, definitely it would be our position to bring it up with the chief, but there's interpretation that needs to be clarified," El-Chantiry said.
Two years ago, the Toronto board requested the province address the question, but are still waiting for a response.
It is unlikely clarification will arrive before the November election.