Police board aims to hire new chief by end of term, despite election
Others calling for hiring to be delayed
Seven people have applied to be the next chief of police in the nation's capital, according to the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, who said the plans remain to hire a new chief before the end of this term of council.
Eli El-Chantiry declined to say how many of those applicants the board planned to interview, saying it was "a confidential labour relations matter."
But there are some, including people running for mayor, who question whether the process to choose a new police chief shouldn't wait: not only to give the next council some input into the decision but also so the city is armed with more concrete answers about just exactly what happened during the Freedom Convoy.
Former mayor and current candidate Bob Chiarelli tweeted on Aug. 3, in response to the board's plans to interview applicants in early October: "It was never clearer that the citizens of this city have lost confidence in the senior leadership of the Ottawa Police Service than those few weeks in February when a bunch of thugs were allowed to take over our downtown."
"We need to take the time to properly consult citizens on what shape they want our police service to take and who should lead that service," Chiarelli tweeted.
Catherine McKenney on Sept. 1 sent the police board a letter asking the board to "pause the recruitment and hiring process until after the 2022 municipal election."
"This is a time for renewal for the city and for the police. I ask that you allow the new council and new [police board} to choose the chief who will lead that renewal," McKenney wrote.
Board voted to continue recruitment, chair says
El-Chantiry, the outgoing police board chair and one of many councillors who is not seeking re-election, says the board is only fulfilling one of its core duties, to hire a police chief, even if it's doing so at the tail end of its term.
El Chantiry said "the board voted unanimously to continue the recruitment process and proceed to the posting stage" at its July meeting, which was public, "following a discussion on the results of the community engagement the board had conducted in support of the chief recruitment process."
"The results of the community engagement were used to help inform the recruitment materials," he said.
But that community engagement — both the hiring of two members of the force's own community equity council to conduct it and the results it ultimately yielded — was widely criticized by the community, too.
At that same July public meeting, the board as a whole heard how there weren't formal receipts given to every consultation participant who received an honorarium and how more than half of the board participated in their own community consultations. Only one member — Coun. Cathy Curry, publicly admitted doing so. Coun. Jeff Leiper was absent from the meeting.
El-Chantiry told CBC News this week, "Recruiting the Chief of Police is one of the main responsibilities of a Police Services Board and until such time as a new Council is in place, and new Council members are appointed to sit on the Board, the current Board has a duty to fulfil its responsibilities as prescribed under the Police Services Act."
Upheaval at police board
The board currently conducting the search is very different from the one toppled in February during a contentious meeting of city council at the height of the convoy occupation of Ottawa.
Coun. Diane Deans was removed from her role as chair days after Peter Sloly stepped down as chief, after she offered the job of interim chief without consulting council. In the aftermath, some members of the board resigned in protest. Three provincial members of the board resigned March 2, following questions about reports that one of them, Robert Swaita, had attended the so-called Freedom Convoy protest in downtown Ottawa as a supporter.
In March the province appointed three new members — Michael Doucet, Salim Fakirani and Peter Henschel.
El-Chantiry says these appointees "were recently appointed for a further three-year term." It means the three will now be police board members until 2025.
"They will add some stability to the Board's membership following the election," El-Chantiry said in the statement.
The board "is planning to select the successful candidate before the end of this term of council," El-Chantiry said.
The municipal election is on Oct. 24, but this term of council ends on Nov. 14.
Multiple investigations into convoy response
The timing, however, will come before many of the investigations into how police and police leadership handled the convoy will be completed.
The commission tasked with investigating the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act during the convoy protest, resumes next week and is not expected to wrap until Nov. 25. A report must be tabled by Feb. 20, 2023.
A citizen's group called the Ottawa People's Commission is also conducting its own hearings this month into the occupation.
And last month the City of Ottawa's auditor general announced her office will also dig into the planning and response of the city and its police board to last winter's Freedom Convoy.
El-Chantiry also said there would be "a number of opportunities" for a new council and board to "reaffirm the policing priorities of the citizens of Ottawa." Namely, next year's police budget, a new "strategic plan" for the force and "in the hiring of a new permanent deputy chief."
The board could be commended for seeing through with the process and installing a permanent chief as the only thing this iteration of it will achieve.
But it could also be argued the decision may be too important to be left to a group that won't have to deal with the consequences.