Candidates split on board’s decision to hire new chief before election

The board is charged with selecting a replacement to Peter Sloly, who resigned as Ottawa’s police chief during the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests last winter.

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The Ottawa Police Services Board wants to hire a new chief before the end of their current term, which could mean announcing a new hire before the Oct. 24 election or soon afterward, but some candidates want the board to wait until there is a new council and mayor.

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Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, the board chair who currently occupies the mayor’s statutory seat on the board, is not running for re-election. His last day on the board will be Nov. 14, the final day of the current term.

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El-Chantiry told this newspaper this week the board was hoping to complete the hiring of a new police chief before that date.

But two mayoral candidates, Catherine McKenney and Bob Chiarelli, have said they think the hiring process should wait.

“I’ve asked for the hiring of the police chief to be put off until we have a new council. I think that is key,” McKenney told The Ottawa Citizen’s editorial board on Tuesday.

McKenney, who uses the pronoun “they,” earlier sent a letter to the police board asking for the hiring of the chief to be delayed.

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“After election day, Ottawa will have a new mayor and a plurality of new councillors,” McKenney wrote. “There will also be a new chair of the board and new members of the board. These newly elected officials will assume their positions with a new mandate from the citizens of our city. It is only right that the selection process for the incoming chief of police reflects the choices being made by voters.”

Chiarelli, who served as Ottawa’s mayor from 2001 to 2006 and is hoping to regain that position on Oct. 24, posted a statement on Twitter decrying the board’s decision to go ahead with the hiring.

“Consultation to date has only involved a handful of people and the community engagement strategy by an outside consultant has been widely panned by a skeptical public,” Chiarelli wrote. “That process should happen under a new mayor and council and with new leadership on the police services board.”

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Candidates for the River Ward city council seat, Ethan Sabourin, Alex Dugal, and Riley Brockington, said in a joint statement on Twitter they also wanted the board to halt the hiring process until the new mayor and council could be elected.

“More than one-third of current councillors are not standing for re-election,” the statement said. “The new council will represent a significant change and must be consulted.”

But Mark Sutcliffe, a former broadcaster and media personality also running for mayor, said he saw no problem with the police board’s decision to hire a chief before the election.

“It’s not the mayor who picks the next police chief,” Sutcliffe said. “I think there’s a risk that that would politicize the process a little bit too much. I think we’ve seen the politicization of the police services board over the last six or seven months, and that’s not what the people of Ottawa want. They want good service and good leadership at the top of the police service. We have to remind people that city council doesn’t pick the police chief, the mayor of Ottawa doesn’t pick the police chief.

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“It’s up to the police services board, and I think it’s a little too easy to turn it into this thing, ‘We need to wait for the next council to be elected,’ because it’s not the new council’s responsibility, it’s the police services board’s responsibility.”

The police board has seven members: three provincial appointees, three city council members and one citizen member chosen by city council.

Amid the “Freedom Convoy” protests earlier this year, Diane Deans was ousted as board chair by city council. The two other city councillors who sat on the board, Rawlson King and Carol Anne Meehan, and the council-appointed citizen, Sandy Smallwood, resigned.

The three provincial appointees were later replaced by Salim Fakirani, Peter Henschel and Michael Doucet, who have three-year terms and will remain on the board regardless of the Oct. 24 election results.

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El-Chantiry was appointed chair of the board by council on Feb. 16. But, on Nov. 15, the first day of the new term of council, the new mayor, or a different councillor, will take the mayor’s statutory seat.

The remaining council members and citizen member appointed by council can continue to sit on the board after Nov. 15, until city council votes to appoint their successors.

The police board’s next public meeting is to be held on Oct. 31.

The position of police chief became vacant when Peter Sloly resigned as Ottawa’s police chief, also during the “Freedom Convoy” protests. Steve Bell was appointed interim chief.

This article is available for free — outside of our paywall — because we believe this is a matter of crucial public interest. If you’d like to support us as we continue to provide journalism that matters for all Ottawans, please subscribe: 

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