Anishinabek Police Chief facing misconduct allegations his lawyers call 'nonsensical'

The chief of a northern Ontario police force suspended for misconduct two years ago is getting his day in court. Anishinabek Police Chief John Syrette has been suspended without pay since February 2019.

Disciplinary hearing to resume at a later date

Anishinabek Police Chief John Syrette has been suspended without pay since being accused of misconduct two years ago. (CBC/Katie Breen)

Allegations of misconduct against the Anishinabek Police chief first made two years ago are finally being tested in a disciplinary hearing.

Chief John Syrette is accused of workplace harassment, making derogatory comments and going outside his authority to give his deputy chief a lucrative new contract. 

Syrette was first suspended without pay, along with deputy police chief David Whitlow, in February 2019.

Very few details have been made public since then, until disciplinary hearings held this week.

The suspensions came shortly after the Anishinabek Police governing authority, the equivalent of a municipal police services board, says it first learned about a contract Syrette signed for Whitlow in 2017.

It's alleged that contract "contains clauses that result in significant financial liability" for the police force, giving Whitlow benefits for life, the right to 36 months severance pay, every Friday off and required the force to pay his legal bills if he faced disciplinary proceedings.

Prosecutor Joël Dubois called the terms of this contract "crazy" and the equivalent of "signing a blank cheque for your buddy."

After being accused of misconduct, Whitlow resigned as deputy chief.

The governing authority alleges that Syrette "acted outside his authority" and put Whitlow's interests ahead of the police force and the 16 Ontario First Nations it protects.

But Syrette's lawyers say he signed all of Whitlow's previous contracts and the governing authority seemed to "not care" about the process before it discovered this contract, two years after it had been in effect. 

"You cannot ignore these failures and simply skip to the end," said defence lawyer Joseph Markson.  "'Oh, we're surprised by this contract."

The Anishinabek Police governing authority claims Chief Syrette went outside his authority when he signed a new contract for his deputy chief, which it claims was a "significant financial liability" for the police force. (Erik White/CBC)

Two of the five counts of misconduct against Syrette relate to an email in 2017 where he is accused of making "unprofessional, derogatory and offensive" comments about the chief of the Biinjititwaabik Zaaging First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

"The entire count seems to be about chief Syrette's use of two words: slam and spin," Markson told the virtual hearings this week. 

"No vulgarity, no personal attacks."

Two of the five counts relate to a 2018 conference where Syrette showed and commented on a video of one of his officers interviewing a 13-year-old who was a possible victim of sexual assault.

The governing authority alleges that Syrette told the audience the investigation was "being incorrectly done" and was "an example of the service not being accountable to missing and murdered Indigenous women."

"This was someone who we thought was great, but clearly was not," Syrette is alleged to have said about the officer. 

"Even people who we thought were competent have their limits and that the system that is in place to catch these mistakes failed."

The Anishinabek Police governing authority says this constituted "workplace harassment" and also accused Syrette of breach of confidence for divulging "a matter which was his duty to keep secret, namely particulars of the sexual assault investigation."

Markson called all the allegations "nonsensical" and accused the Anishinabek Police governing authority of having a hidden agenda against Syrette for which "precious public resources are being used." 

No word on when the hearing will resume.


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to