News / Ottawa

Depoliticize the police board, says report

An internal review of the Police Services Board suggests discomfort with the role played by city councillors.

Ottawa Chief of Police Charles Bordeleau (left), and Waterloo Region Chief of Police Bryan Larkin.

Vanessa Tignanelli/The Record

Ottawa Chief of Police Charles Bordeleau (left), and Waterloo Region Chief of Police Bryan Larkin.

A performance review of the Police Services Board, conducted by its policy and governance committee, suggests that some members of the board would like it to distance itself from the city’s politics.

“Too heavy a role is played by city councillors,” reads one of the comments, which have been anonymized. It suggested that the board should instead be made up of “more independent community leaders.”

The influence that city politics exerts over the actions of the PSB has been a constant concern for Ottawa police.

“I totally agree with that review,” said police union head Matt Skof. “Our experience in Ottawa is very clear that city council has politicized policing.

“The tail wags the dog here. The Police Services Board has a history of appearing confused around its authority and responsibilities,” said Skof, noting that the board as a provincial mandate that supersedes its responsibility to city council.

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, who currently chairs the board, says that the debate over the relationship between councils and police services boards "is a debate right across the province."

He disagreed that there needed to be a separation between the two. "I can summarize it in a very small way: what we need is a chair to be engaged and to be the liaison [with] city council."

Skof said that the politics of city council have created major problems of accountability within Ottawa’s police force.

This creates a major conflict of interest, he said, when it comes to addressing complaints. “Right now (the board) has a role to play in vetting complaints” about senior officers, said Skof. “But if they vet a complaint through, they are financially responsible for that complaint.”

A recommendation submitted through the review suggested that politicians be barred from holding the chair position, which they have done for several years.

"I think that's a fair question," said El-Chantiry. "There's nothing to say whether it should be a councillor or a civilian. Once you're on the board, you're a board member."

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