Ottawa

Ottawa police member charged in relation to 'racist' meme

Ottawa's police chief says a member of the service has been charged in relation to the creation and distribution of a meme he previously denounced as 'racist.'

Police chief says entire organization 'failed' and will undergo 'remediation'

In a video statement, Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said the investigation into the creation of a racist meme has led to a Police Services Act charge against one member of the service. 1:21

Ottawa's police chief says a member of the service has been charged in relation to the creation and distribution of a meme he previously denounced as "racist."

The photo collage depicting 13 officers, most of whom are men of colour, included the phrase: "Ottawa Police Service — We're always hiring...anyone."

Three of the officers who appear in the meme were recently charged by the RCMP in an alleged tow truck kickback scheme.

Others are facing criminal charges including assault, or have been convicted of offences including impaired driving and unlawful entry. Some of the officers are facing charges under the Police Services Act.

A second version of the meme included an image of Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal, currently suspended with pay after two women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

The meme was widely shared by current and retired officers before coming to the attention of the executive. 

Chief Peter Sloly announced the charges Monday morning as part of a statement responding to rapidly rising tensions in the United States over the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police officers in Minneapolis, Minn.

There must be something in their culture and in their practices that allowed for the creation of it and the distribution of it with impunity, so there needs to be an overhaul and an investigation into that culture that allowed it.- Sahada Alolo, Ottawa Police Community Equity Council

In Ottawa, a detective in the drug unit had been suspended as part of an internal investigation into the meme, though Sloly did not confirm it's the same member who's now been charged under the Police Services Act, nor did he provide details about those charges.

"The information of the affected member will be released through the official and formal process," Sloly told CBC's Adrian Harewood.

Sloly said though only one member is being charged, there will be a servicewide remediation process over the next year. That will include training and changes to policies — including IT policies — to better address the concerns of racialized and minority members of the service.

"The entire organization failed in this enterprise and that is why the entire organization is going through remediation," he said.

The meme depicts 13 Ottawa police officers, mostly men of colour. (CBC)

Sloly said there will be a separate investigation into how information related to the initial meme investigation was released publicly. He said that information was released without thought to legal or ethical obligations related to internal police matters.

"Somebody or bodies decided to take into their own hands for their own agenda a destructive course of action that has further hurt the people that were original victimized by the memes and have hurt other members of this organization," Sloly said.

"It has undermined the trust in this organization by the community."

'Not enough'

Sahada Alolo, co-chair of the Ottawa Police Community Equity Council, said people in the community were hurt by the sharing of the image.

"Regardless of the person's intent, the impact that it had in the community was racist." Alolo said

She wants to see more than one officer charged, and said any training that results needs to be built on engagement and input from the community. 

Sahada Alolo, co-chair of the Community Equity Council, said members of Ottawa's black community are offering to help design a training program for police. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"It's not enough and they need to go and dig deeper," Alolo said. "There must be something in their culture and in their practices that allowed for the creation of it and the distribution of it with impunity, so there needs to be an overhaul and an investigation into that culture that allowed it."

Sloly said the training will be "substantially different" than previous diversity and inclusion programs, though he did not provide details Monday.

"We will be confronted and have difficult discussions by those who have been victimized internally and, yes, externally by those actions," he said.

The Ottawa Police Association, which previously described the detective's suspension as unfair and said the chief's earlier public comments on the matter risked prejudicing the investigation, declined CBC's request for comment.

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