By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
A day after she resigned from the Ottawa Police Services Board, councillor Carol Anne Meehan says she’s appalled at how the city is being run.
The Gloucester-South Nepean councillor was expected to be ousted from the board, after Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt brought forward a motion to remove Meehan and Diane Deans, the boards chair.
Deans’ position would go to West-Carleton March councillor Eli El-Chantiry, and Meehan’s would go to Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder.
Deans was voted out 15 to nine, but Meehan won the confidence vote with four additional councillors voting to keep her on. Despite this, Meehan decided to resign in solidarity.
In an interview with the Barrhaven Independent in the morning after the seven hour-long board meeting, Meehan said she didn’t expect the vote to work in her favour.
“I was surprised but I was also gratified that I had the majority of council support me and wanted to allow me to continue to serve on the Ottawa Police Services Board,” she said. ‘I thank them for that; I think that sends a clear message to Jim Watson, Scott Moffatt, and to Jan Harder that not everyone agrees with their tactics.”
Meehan said she decided to step down because of the dirty politics at play.
“I could not go forward and serve with an appointed board that Jim Watson had orchestrated,” she said. “I fully believe that our Ottawa Police Services Board did everything in its power to end this demonstration and to support the police as well as we can. I could not in good faith continue on the board.”
An Orchestrated Attack
Both Meehan and Deans were called into the Mayor’s office Wednesday afternoon and asked to resign. Both denied, and said they would go down with a fight.
“It definitely was an orchestrated attack coming from the Mayor’s office, and what we witnessed on the evening of the 16th was an absolute disgrace,” Meehan told the Barrhaven Independent. “I want to apologize to the people of this city who should expect more from their elected representatives. None of us, especially me, wanted to be embroiled in a situation like this when the people of this city need leadership.”
“We need a united front in an unprecedented crisis,” the ward 22 councillor added. “Instead we were killing seven hours debating something that was politically motivated and was nothing more than petty politics and Jim Watsons attempt to discredit the people who were working the hardest to resolve this crisis.”
The problems started to arise when it was reported a new interim police chief was hired less than 24 hours after Chief Peter Sloly resigned. The Ottawa Police Services Board said after almost three weeks under siege, they had to act fast to bring an end to the demonstrations.
The Police Services Act allows the board to recruit and appoint a new chief of police or deputy chief. That includes determining their remuneration and working conditions.
The Gloucester-South Nepean councillor said people seem to think the board has special powers to police the police. That authority is not given. Instead, they act in an oversight role, asking questions and seeing if more resources are needed.
A New Vision
Meehan was part of the board that hired Sloly in the first place. It was a history-making moment for Ottawa with the city’s first Black police chief. Sloly was brought in to help repair race relations, and fix a divide which existed in the force.
“Chief Sloly was a change agent and we needed that. Our police service was in total disarray,” Meehan noted. “We had a list of allegations of sexual harrasement and assult within the police service; We had numerous officers off on leave; we had a service that did not reflect the divercity of our community.”
The way policing is done has also changed in this city, notes Meehan, which is long overdue.
“Policing in Canada and around the world is changing because of what happened with George Floyd. We need to change the way we police and we have been addressing that,” she said. “One of my council colleagues called me up and said ‘What are you guys doing? Why are you listening to the Bipoc community?’ Do you think that not listening to the community is going to be a solution? We are divided, we are trying to listen and police in different ways for changing times in the city.”
Meehan said not being on the board is going to free up much of her time which can now be dedicated to her ward 22 constituents. She also plans to help with cleanup efforts downtown when the demonstrators go home.
Ottawa Police say they have a plan to end the weeks long siege and it’s being orchestrated. Meehan says that plan will be implemented slowly to ensure the situation doesn’t turn to chaos.
Plans Get Backtracked
On Feb. 17, Mayor Watson announced that former Waterloo Police Chief Matthew Torigian would terminate his contract to become this city’s chief, and Interim Chief Steve Bell would remain in the position for now.
Torigian was expected to start the position in only a few days.
In a memo sent out Friday afternoon from Eli El-Chantiry and Mayor Jim Watson, it read: “We thank Mr. Torigian for his gracious offer and decision to withdraw his offer of services and to seek no compensation for doing so. “On behalf of Ottawa City Council, the OPS Board and all residents, we thank Mr. Torigian for his extremely gracious handling of this difficult situation.”
Meehan said Torigian was only to come to Ottawa on an interim basis to deal with the situation now. She said the Solicitor General’s Office gave a recommendation and supported the hiring “in order to get through this crisis.”
“We can make decisions and we made a decision which was in the best interest for this city and senior command,” the Gloucester-South Nepean councillor noted. “He was going to be a short term interim chief to help the senior command. We would have told council about this in due course, except the Mayor’s office leaked it to make it a wedge issue. The fact that city councillors ignored the truth is really frustrating. I’m really sad to think they have all subscribed to the Mayor’s remedy. I am sad that many of them choose to ignore the rules that we operated under.”