News / Winnipeg

Lone councillor on police board criticizes mayor's non-Indigenous chair choice

But Mayor Brian Bowman disagrees: 'Regardless of one’s background, they have the ability to effect positive change.'

Coun. Ross Eadie

Metro File

Coun. Ross Eadie

Council’s executive policy committee may support Mayor Brian Bowman’s candidate for chairperson of the city’s police board, but the lone councillor representative on that board does not.

Coun. Ross Eadie has taken umbrage with Bowman’s recommended candidate—philanthropist David Asper—not because Asper isn’t qualified or capable, but because he feels appointing him would violate city bylaw. 

“In order for him to (be named chair) the bylaw would have to be reviewed and changed,” Eadie said, explaining he believes there are three separate but related issues.

According to his interpretation of the police board bylaw, there should be “only three citizen appointments” to the board, but Asper and Bowman’s pick for another vacancy, Brian Scarfstein, would raise the number to four.

The bylaw also indicates the chair should be the mayor or his nominee. Eadie said the intention was for the mayor’s designate to be a city councillor, pointing to precedence set by all three past chairs who were councillors.

And lastly, Eadie questioned why an Indigenous leader wasn’t picked, as the police services act encourages boards to “reflect the communities in which they police and are governed.”

Eadie said a seven-person board with only one person of Indigenous descent doesn’t reflect the legislation’s intent, or the community.

But on Wednesday Bowman was adamant the mayor’s designate didn’t need to be a councillor, explaining, “advice that we’ve received is this (citizen appointment) is consistent with the bylaw.”

He also said he only was only concerned with “the quality of the individuals,” not what communities they belong to.

“Regardless of one’s background, they have the ability to effect positive change, whether they’re Indigenous or not, “Bowman said.

That’s why he’ll stand by his selection when he moves for full council approval next week.

Eadie said he’ll be trying to block that motion Wednesday so that a review of the bylaw can be undertaken before proceeding with a chair selection.

“We’ve got to review and change the bylaw because it does change how council, the police board, and the police service would interact,” he said. “Picking a citizen chairperson is not in order. We should not be voting on that.”

To Eadie, the police board has too critical a role to play to not be steered by an elected official, as he notes, “the board allocates whatever budget is given to the police service.”

Officially, the police board is meant to provide “civilian governance and oversight,” but Eadie plans to critically examine the intent of that mandate and the bylaw.

“I’m not a lawyer but I know how laws are supposed to be interpreted,” he said. “If council wants a police board with less council representation, that’s a debate that needs to be had.”

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