(The following text is courtesy Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly submitted today (June 1) and referencing international incidents such as the pandemic and the race riots unfolding in the United States following the death of George Floyd):
OPINION – The local and international events of the last two months have shaken me as a police professional and as a person – from the still unfolding impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, to the tragic events in Minneapolis, to the latest series of internal and public trust issues affecting the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).
We are all rebounding from these blows. But in these times, we need to remain inspired to do our best and help every person and every community in Ottawa.
These experiences have also served to further validate my decision to apply to be the chief of the OPS and to move my family to live in the City of Ottawa.
Over the duration of this extremely challenging period we have hired new ops members both sworn and civilian and also promoted officers to the ranks of sergeant, inspector and superintendent. These new and experienced OPS members represent the best of our societal and organizational values. In the next two months we will be making another series of hires and promotions as well as advancing the new organizational structure of the Service itself. The future will be challenging but I look forward to working with all these new members and new leaders to advance the OPS and to help make the city a healthier, safer and more inclusive place for all.
That said, we need to be clear-eyed about the current state of affairs and remain fully committed to leading the organization through this tough and troubling period.
I have made numerous speeches and statements in my time as OPS chief but it is a critically important moment in time for me to restate my position and the service’s position on these matters.
First, let me say that there is no tolerance for workplace sexual violence and harassment in the OPS. We need to do everything possible to prevent such incidents from occurring while also increasing member confidence in reporting such incidents, reducing fear of reprisals and achieving better resolution outcomes.
I can advise that the joint Board/OPS project on this issue is developing rapidly since its inception during the week of March 16. The board has been a very active and effective partner and we have had tremendous leadership from acting deputy chief Joan McKenna, along with the Ottawa Police Services Board, the rest of the core project team and our community stakeholders.
Let me also again state there is no tolerance for all other forms of work related harassment. No member should be targeted and/or marginalized because of the race, gender, religion or any of the prohibited grounds. We must all adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Respectful Workplace legislation in Bill 168.
No member can be a bystander when these acts occur – if we see or hear something inappropriate then we must say and do the right things to address it. There are no more excuses.
There are a number of other active and ongoing Professional Standards Section (PSS) investigations and legal proceedings into the conduct of our members. The OPS will continue to apply the highest levels of integrity, intensity, investment and innovation in all such matters.
Let me update you on the status of the PSS meme investigation, which is now fully concluded. As a result, we have laid Police Services Act charges against one member relating to the creation and distribution of one of the memes.
There are however additional issues that have arisen as a result of this investigation that need a broader set of corporate resolutions.
First, there was a significant leak of highly confidential and sensitive information from this investigation to the media. This further victimized the people depicted in the memes along with their families and it victimized additional OPS members and their families. It further damaged the OPS reputation and it further undermined the trust and confidence that the public has in the OPS. That is why I have commenced a full PSS Administrative Investigation into leaks occurring in the OPS.
The second thing we will be doing as a result of this PSS investigation is a full corporate remediation. It was clear that relevant policies, training, procedures and practices were insufficient to prevent and manage this. As a result, we are overhauling related policies, we are addressing IT issues and every member of the OPS, myself included, will participate in a service-wide training and awareness initiative that will be completed in the next 12 months. The initiative will commence immediately. It will help the Service to better understand and address the intersectionality issues affecting racialized and other minority members in our workplace.
Fixing our house and making our family members healthy and safe has been and will continue to be my number one priority.
We can rarely if ever determine the true intent of a person’s acts but we can see the impacts of those acts. Regardless of intent of the people involved in these acts, I will not fail to act to do the right things to assess, address and redress them while also doing all I can to protect all OPS members and all community members from those who seek to do harm to them. As such, I will devote the necessary resources (money, people and time) to these priorities over the course of my full tenure as OPS chief.
We must all be much more knowledgeable and aware of how these acts manifest in the workplace – whether they be carried out as micro aggressions, bullying, mobbing, reprisals along with a variety of mean-spirited memes, unethical media leaks and all other related acts of omission and commission. These are all examples of painful acts that negatively impact our members as well as the public’s trust in our Service.
Finally, I want to speak to the global and local events which are right now confronting and impacting OPS members as well as community members. The #MeToo movement exposed the devastating experiences of women in our workplace. The research into PTSD and related health issues exposed how much more we need to do to prevent tragic police suicides.
The unfolding events in Minneapolis and across the USA are impacting communities and police services in Canada and right here in Ottawa. It is impacting members of our local black community including our own black members. It is impacting communities across the spectrum and it is impacting every member of the OPS in some way. It has impacted me deeply as well.
These tragic events abroad have opened still raw wounds here. Since the onset of this latest racially charged flashpoint in the U.S., I have been actively reaching out to OPS members, local community leaders as well as international police and community leaders.
While new information and insights come in every day there were so many things that could have been done which would have allowed Mr. George Floyd to still be alive today.
I join with the many other police, justice and community leaders to express sorrow for the Floyd family for their loss. I join the chorus of those calling for immediate action within the justice system and in all institutions and all social spheres to change the circumstances that underpin such tragic incidents.
There are so many other people, families, organizations and communities that are impacted by the ripple effects from any such incident – this includes people right here in Ottawa. The OPS stands with all people who experience injustice and who are seeking to create a more safe, just and inclusive society.
I recognize inequities and injustices are a reality here in the nation’s capital. This city I live in and this country that I love has, in its distant and recent history, its own examples of racially charged flash points between the police and community. Let me clearly restate my commitment to do everything possible to improve OPS’ ability to be able to serve, protect and respect all of the people in Ottawa.
The OPS will continually strive to truly listen to the lived experiences of those people and communities most directly impacted by such tragic events. We need to have ongoing meaningful dialogue with them as well as to consistently demonstrate acts of empathy towards them. To do this we need to work in and with the community to convene, facilitate and/or participate in difficult, courageous and brutally honest conversations about these vexing complex issues.
We then need to go from listening and dialoguing to forming partnerships with the community where we can coproduce the organizational, cultural and societal changes we need and deserve right here in the OPS and the City of Ottawa.
With the coordinated efforts of committed leaders at all ranks and all roles in the service, we will continue to do everything possible to better assess, address and redress criminality, corruption and conduct issues in the OPS. This includes utilizing the full range of traditional discipline tools such as investigations, prosecutions, sanctions and separations. It also includes the full range of new tools mediation, remediation, rehabilitation, reconciliation and restoration. It will include new partnerships with the Board and external organizations, experts and academics to continually change and improve our organization to better serve all our members and all of the community.
We can do this but only if we do it together.