Defunding the Police, Part II

To Serve and Protect Themselves

Last time in The Voice Magazine, I wrote about the importance of understanding the key structures around policing which contribute to many of the grievances that people have with policing.  But by shifting the focus from police budgets to the shortcomings of the structures around policing, that is the most effective way to address the core grievances that gave rise to the “Defund the police” slogan and to improve the institution of policing.

My experience with the Police Services Act, police services boards, and law societies

My experience with the Police Services Act (PSA), police services boards, and law societies stem from one of my childhood friends, who is also a member of my ethnic community, being groomed into the world of illegal online gambling at his first job as a busboy at an ethnic Italian restaurant while he was in high school.  The issue with this illegal online gambling platform is that users could make big-sized bets with no money down and, if they lost, they would then be required to pay the management team in cash but, if they were unable to pay right away, then they would have to pay interest on that money.  My childhood friend was hired at the restaurant in the early 2010s, but by the late 2010s it had changed him from a happy-go-lucky kid to someone who was slowly becoming unrecognizable.  After every subsequent year, his health and wellness slowly began to crumble, and many of his co-workers, some of whom were also members of my community, reached out to me to share their concerns for him and the impact that the place was having on him.

I first became aware of this platform back in the mid-2010s; my friend had showcased it to me, but when I decided to take ownership of the situation in 2020, I had no idea the curvy road it would take me down, with obstacles at every turn.

Hail to the Chief

In 2019, the City of Ottawa had hired a new police chief, Chief Peter Sloly.  Chief Sloly had become Ottawa’s first black police chief, and he had a skillset that was unmatched even in the world of police chiefs.  Chief Sloly’s career path started as a police officer with the Toronto Police Services where he eventually worked his way to become the youngest deputy chief.  He also worked as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, and he had private sector experience working as a consultant in the cyber security space.  Additionally, Chief Sloly had a strong educational background, holding an MBA, various other professional development certifications, and he was a graduate of the FBI National Academy.  To say that Ottawa was lucky to have Chief Sloly would be an understatement.

In the years prior to Chief Sloly, the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) were consistently plagued with scandals.  There were serious issues, and they were non-stop after we entered the year 2000.  Shortly after Chief Sloly had been hired, he organized a talk at a public school in Ottawa South after a string of shootings in the area left residents feeling worried.  I attended the talk and had the chance to publicly ask Chief Sloly a question, asking him about his plans to tackle organized crime, not limited to weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and illegal gambling rings, and to what extent was he prepared to look within the OPS.  Chief Sloly did not hesitate to answer my question, he told residents that there were in fact internal investigations taking place and that he did have a strategy in place for more serious elements of crime, and when issues of public interest came to the attention of the police that they would be pursued.  It was refreshing to hear, and Chief Sloly was true to his word, police officers who were acting on the far side of the law started to make front page news for their criminal activity.  The sun was starting to shine in Ottawa, but it would not last.

Let the Complaints Begin

In the summer of 2020, I decided to take up the OPS on their ask for residents to “say something when you see something”, by reporting the restaurant and its ownership group for operating the illegal online gambling ring and for claiming police connections to intimidate staff from going to the police for help, submitting my complaint directly to the Ottawa Police Services Board (the Board).  Around that time, I also decided to register to address the Board at their monthly meeting, for the first time, and I went out of my way to provide them with my intended transcript.  However, they were concerned about my presentation, and they informed me a few hours prior to my presentation that I would not be allowed to speak unless I made changes to my transcript.  I obliged and, after obfuscating much of my transcript, I spoke to them on July 27, 2020.

Months would pass and I would not hear from the Board nor any other policing agency regarding my criminal complaint, but a story broke about the decision to not fire a police officer who threatened to kill his tenant and more, so I requested to address the Board for the second time.  At the Board meeting on October 26, 2020, I spoke on an inconsistent disciplinary process and the impact it has on public confidence and trust.

Once again, months would pass.  We were now in 2021, and I still had not heard from the Board nor any other policing agency regarding my criminal complaint.  Then, one day in March, CTV runs a story about the restaurant being cited for breaking COVID-19 protocols and getting fined, and how the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario was threatening to revoke their liquor license, which would have resulted in the establishment needing to shut down.    Unfortunately, I knew that if that restaurant was to shut down it would put an end to any criminal investigation into the illegal online gambling ring and any organized crime networks that the ownership group may have been connected to.  It could be a very convenient way to justify the shutting down of an establishment that may have been tipped off about any potential investigation.

So, once again, I decided to write to the Board, but now I included City Councillors that sat on the Board because I got the feeling that the Board wanted plausible deniability on their side.  I repeated the full details of the situation, and in that email I discussed the potential need to file a criminal complaint with the RCMP, where they focus on organized crime, because the Board had failed to act on my complaint.

There were two more policing scandals that year: the first had to do with someone posing as a psychologist and providing mental health services to a female police officer who had ruffled police feathers by complaining about the workplace, and the second was to do with a City Councillor’s former staffer who was identified as leaking confidential memos on land matters; it just so happened that this staffer was family with the leaders of a major land developing organization.  So, in July, I requested to address the Board for a third time, intending to discuss how technology could be leveraged to build trust and improve community relations with the use of network systems.  I made those comments at the Board meeting on July 26, 2021.

However, a few days before addressing the Board in July, I inquired about the status of my criminal complaint, which had been submitted over a year ago now, and I inquired about the OPS Professional Standards Section (PSS) since my complaint had involved police officers.  During this email exchange, the assistant to the executive director to the Board decided to share a single paragraph from my email with the OPS PSS.  After connecting with the OPS PSS, myself, I asked them to confirm whether the Board had shared our entire correspondence with them, and they informed me that it had not been.  I explained that it was inappropriate to discuss my criminal complaint until the Board had provided them with our entire correspondence.  I also wrote back to the Board, while CC’ing the OPS PSS, and I requested that they share the entirety of our communication with the OPS PSS and not just a single paragraph.

It was at this point that the Board really started to fumble with their explanations.  The assistant had claimed that Board operations and protocols were the reason that the Board could not share our correspondence with the OPS PSS, but when I requested that those specific operations and protocols be cited, she was unable to do so.  Almost immediately after, I received a new email informing me that they received legal advice from their legal counsel advising them to not cooperate.

In the Board’s response, the assistant also misrepresented the email I had sent out in March of 2021, when I emailed the Board after seeing the CTV News Ottawa story on the ethnic restaurant.   She stated that I had established contact with the RCMP, and they made it clear that the Board’s legal counsel had ordered that they not share the entirety of our correspondence with the OPS PSS, “as to not prejudice any potential criminal investigation”.  However, I had only noted that these matters might need to be raised with the RCMP, not that I’d done so.  Additionally, they stated that they did not provide oversight of the OPS, and that they were not involved in day-to-day operations and investigations and were not involved in matters of discipline or conduct.  Although that may have been true, it was out of context and not applicable in this situation.  The process for a police investigation to get going requires having a designated police officer following up with the person who is submitting the complaint to determine the validity of the complaint as well as the gathering of other information, long before any policing resources were made available for a specific criminal investigation. As no officer had ever contacted me, it seems no complaint had been brought forward, or that the police had ignored it if it had. Something was off, so I wrote back to help correct the Board so that they could avoid being on the wrong side of a criminal complaint.

In my response, I recommended that the Board seek out a second legal opinion on the roles and responsibilities of board members because the position that they had been advised to take was in contravention to their mandate.  I also informed them that I would be escalating my criminal complaint by writing to the Premier of Ontario’s Office, key Members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (MLAs) and the entirety of City Council, sharing the details of my complaint and the failings of the Board.  Additionally, I shared policing resources with the assistant, highlighting specific passages that ran counter to the ‘legal opinion’ that was provided to the Board and I suggested they contact the Criminal Intelligence Services Bureau of Ontario (CISO).  The reason it was necessary to connect the Board with the CISO had to do with the CISO being responsible for bringing together various policing agencies and all levels of government in order to identify and tackle organized crime across the province, including illegal gambling and money laundering.

Although police services boards are limited in their scope, what I was being told by the Board was so outrageously wrong that it was shocking.  Despite how police services boards were not “involved in day-to-day operations and investigations”, there are established responsibilities that require Board members to take certain steps, not limited to the forwarding of community complaints and/or accusations of police misconduct.  There was nothing precluding the Board from acting on my criminal complaint.  It compelled me to remind the Board that the Canada in which individuals who had occupied positions of power and could leverage their networks at the expense of underprivileged groups—the Canada where it was acceptable to shield individuals who had held positions of consequence and whose transgressions came at the expense of underprivileged groups—that Canada no longer existed.  I still believed that this cohort of Board members could do better, but they would end up proving me wrong.

Connecting with elected officials, the Law Society of Ontario, and oversight bodies

Instead of taking accountability for their ‘handling’ of my complaint, the Board decided to dig their heels into the ground, and it became clear that there was something rotten, not in the State of Denmark, but in Ottawa.  All of this leads me to raising the issue of my criminal complaint with elected officials across all three levels of government, connecting with the Law Society of Ontario, and with the Board collapsing.  However, that part of my wild experience dealing with various structures around policing is for next week’s issue of The Voice Magazine.