By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
Emotion was high Wednesday night as Ottawa City council voted on a motion to remove two key Ottawa Police Service Board members amid the downtown siege.
Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt tabled the motion to remove police board chair Diane Deans and board member Carol Anne Meehan, who is councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean.
The shocking move came just hours after media reports stated a new police chief was hired less than 24 hours after outgoing chief Peter Sloly resigned. The board, which had not formally announced the hire, sped up the process to bring an end to the week’s long anti COVID-19 demonstrations which have gripped the downtown core.
Sloly resigned effective immediately after facing much public backlash for a lack of response from the force, and the board felt they had to act fast during unprecedented times.
According to multiple media reports, the board hired former Waterloo Police Chief Matt Torigian, who left that position in 2014 and hasn’t policed since. His contact in Ottawa would last until the end of 2022, but could end earlier if a mutual agreement was reached.
When the reports first started coming out on social media, many city councillors were left blind sighted by the news and felt they should have been consulted, which wasn’t legally required.
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.
Calls For Resignation
Even so, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson clearly wasn’t in support of the move. Sources tell the Barrhaven Independent both Meehan and Deans were asked to resign from the board by the Mayors office, but said no.
That’s when Moffatts motion was brought forward to oust them in a vote. It was seconded by Innes ward councillor Laura Dudas.
Both Meehan and Deans said it was a last approach power grab by the Mayor and direction came from his office.
“I’m astounded by what’s happening tonight,” a tearful Meehan said. “Yes I’m an emotional person, but I can say that I am truly disgusted by the cheap political stunt that is being played out here tonight.”
Meehan also had a direct message for Mayor Watson.
“What’s happening tonight is truly disgusting,” she said. “It demonstrates the lengths that you as the Mayor of this city will go to protect your legacy. This is politics at its worst and certainly the fish stinks from the head on down.”
Meehan said the Police Services Act doesn’t give board members the power to direct the chief.
“We are kept in the dark a lot of time,” she said. “We are oversight, he is operational.”
Reaction to the motion was mixed with some councillors agreeing it was a stunt drawn up by the Mayor, and others saying the board failed Ottawa residents as we got set to enter day 21 under siege.
It led board member Rawlson King to resign from the board even before a vote had been done. He said the Mayor had a “different vision” for governance. Many councillors begged him to stay and reconsider his decision, but King, the only Black member on the police board, wouldn’t budge.
Earlier in the day, civilian member Sandy Smallwood also resigned in protest, after councillor Eli El Chantiry publicly criticized the board. The motion called for him to replace Deans’ seat, and also become chair.
Council voted 15 to nine in favour of ousting Deans, but Meehan’s fate was different. When it was time to vote on whether or not to remove her, the Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor could be heard saying “the vote would be the same.”
“You can vote me off the police services board; that’s fine,” Meehan told her council colleagues. “It will give me time to go downtown and help Catherine (McKenney) and the residents clean up down there.”
A Surprising Vote
In a surprising turn of events, council voted 13 to 11 in favour of keeping Meehan on the board, with councillors Keith Egli, Mathieu Fleury, Catherine Kitts, and Matt Lulloff voting differently in the second round.
Barrhaven councillor Jan Harder was expected to take over Meehan’s seat saying she lost the confidence vote.
“What I bring to the table today is a lot of experience, and a lot of experience on the Ottawa Police Services Board,” said Harder. “No matter what Chair Deans says, the stupidity of the board has destabilized this place more than Sloly resigning. It was absolutely irresponsible to hire some random guy who hasn’t policed in eight years without any consultation.”
Harder said she felt acting Chief Steve Bell was best suited to lead the city until a formal application process for a new chief of police could get underway.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what he’s thinking right now as to what’s happened to him in the space of 24 hours,” Harder stated. “It’s absolutely ludicrous and such a bad decision.”
After her remarks, Capital Ward councillor Shawn Menard openly opposed Harder taking over the role, saying previous comments she made wouldn’t help strengthen race relations in this city.
In 2003, Harder came under fire when she said a group of “non whites” were causing trouble in Barrhaven.
Meehan Resigns In Protest
While Meehan could have remained on the board after the vote of confidence, she too decided to resign in solidarity with Deans and King.
Meehan defended Deans and said the board always followed all rules by the book.
“Councillor Deans has led the Ottawa Police Services Board with integrity and compassion,” she said. “Councillor Deans has shown a real openness, resilience and thoughtfulness when it comes to managing the difficult files that have come before this police services board.”
“We have had some tough fires to deal with,” Meehan added. “I think we have dealt with them bravely and openly, and we have done them with legal advice and we have made some real accomplishments.”
The ward 22 councillor did admit to Tweeting some things she shouldn’t, noting it was done out of frustration.
She also read out a brief Twitter conversation she had with Mayor Jim Watson over her feelings that more could have been done sooner.
On Feb. 2 she asked the Mayor to declare a state of emergency, a move not done for four more days. Watson responded by saying it wouldn’t accomplish anything, and would not give the city any additional tools to stop the protests.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be fooled here tonight,” Meehan said. “And if they want heads to roll, do it at the ballot box in October . I think the mayor of this city should resign tonight because this city is in chaos tonight and it shouldn’t be.”