The Ottawa Police Services Board publicly defended and backed the mission of Chief Peter Sloly at Monday’s board meeting, breaking its silence more than a week after an online video mocking the chief and comparing him to Hitler appeared on social media.
In sweeping remarks that she directed to “all police officers and members, their associations, to the board and to the public,” chair Coun. Diane Deans said, “At the heart of policing is public trust.”
Deans, in her first meeting after returning from a year-long medical leave battling cancer, acknowledged months of scandal at the service and alleged inappropriate and even criminal behaviour. “Police cannot be effective if they don’t have the support of the community that they serve,” she said.
That “public trust in our police service … has eroded.”
Deans said “too many tragic incidents” have compromised public trust and “have led to calls to defund police.” She told the board that she wasn’t sure that focusing solely on budgets and numbers would give rise to a solution.
“We need to restore public confidence and trust. Locally, there has been a series of unsettling and inappropriate events involving, or against, members of the service,” she said. “We are aware of alleged sexual assault and harassment within the Ottawa Police Service workplace. Additionally we have seen racist memes and we have witnessed personal attacks on our chief.”
Deans said neither the board nor the city would tolerate violence or hate.
“These acts are disgusting,” she said. “They cast a shadow over the important work of the police service. They need to stop.”
It’s not known whether a police officer was involved in making the video, which used a popular scene from the movie Downfall depicting Hitler’s last days. That scene was overlaid with subtitles specific to the Ottawa Police Service that criticized Sloly’s decision-making.
Deans said the “vast majority of our police service are great officers” who “wear the uniform with pride and serve this city with everything you have.” She also promised to show the community that good police, despite being routinely criticized, are working for them and the betterment of the city.
Sloly, himself, did not address the video but thanked the board for its support. The chief also said the service is working toward progress in a period of “constant change, unprecedented crisis, massive budget losses and never-before-seen levels of public scrutiny.”
Mayor Jim Watson told the meeting that “there have been a number of disturbing events over the past few weeks” the citizens and police officers should “find alarming and frankly, completely unacceptable.”
Watson called on rank-and-file officers to denounce the “cowardly, anonymous social media meme that compared Chief Sloly to Hitler.”
Watson said the video was an attempt to undermine Sloly’s acknowledgement of systemic racism in policing. He also said that such behaviour was “nurtured” by an open letter by Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof, which claimed Sloly sacrificed his own officers in bending to community concerns.
Watson not only called into question the purpose of the letter, which he said could only be to undermine the chief, but also demanded Skof apologize for allegedly calling a Somali-Canadian community organizer a misogynist slur. Skof previously declined to comment on the allegation but previously admitted that his voice is, at times, on a series of recordings that form the basis of criminal charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice against him.
Watson, whom community groups have asked for months to comment on the audio, called the slur “vile and reprehensible” on Monday.
Watson, too, said the behaviour of officers charged with misconduct and criminal offences is unfair to those officers “doing their jobs, putting their lives on the line each and every day with dedication, professionalism and integrity and reaching out to the community in their time of need.”
Twelve public delegates signed up to speak at the board meeting, many of them calling for the board to defund police or, instead, invest in grassroots alternatives.
Oussama Moulay told the board that he grew up both in the Ritchie Street and Heatherington Road areas.
“Growing up in these neighbourhoods, we all wanted to be cops. We looked up to them up until we reached the age of … being treated like we’re up to something,” Moulay said.
“We always admired them. We respected them for protecting our communities until we started getting treated like we’re the ones affecting that community in a negative manner.”