The recent decisions and actions by the Ottawa Police Services Board and City Council have raised questions about their self-awareness and understanding of the governance and the required transparency. The appointment process of Dr. Gail Beck as the Chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board appears to deviate from the standard governance process. This process requires independence from the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.
While I lack a personal acquaintance with Dr. Beck, her exemplary credentials and expertise, given the present policing challenges, make her an outstanding addition to the Board. She could very well be the perfect candidate to lead as the Chair. Nevertheless, my reservations do not pertain to her qualifications; rather, they revolve around the appointment process. The Board should have played a central role in the decision, following a comprehensive review and thoughtful discussion of all potential candidates.
Instead, the city council passed a resolution on April 26—which included votes from city-appointed board members—recommending Dr. Beck as chair. Within the following two days on April 28, a special Police Board meeting took place to elect a chair, largely attended by a block of city-appointed voting members.
Moreover, directing the City Council to approve Dr. Beck’s appointment as board Chair for four years, in principle contravenes Provincial rules that demand the annual election of Chair and Vice-Chair. Section 28 (1) and (2) of Police Services Act and Section 2 of Board Procedure By Law No. 2 of 2011
Given that the Police Services Board has the majority of its membership endorsed by the Mayor, the action also builds a coalition that can work at cross purposes to a fully engaged board.
Having served on the Ottawa Police Services Board, I know first hand the negative impact of such external interferences. They risk undermining the Board’s autonomy and might create alliances that don’t necessarily resonate with the Board’s primary mission and its commitment to the public interest.
The role of the chairperson on any police services board is pivotal. The Chairperson not only establishes the operational and cultural direction but also has a significant influence on the Board’s agenda due to its organizational structure. While both the Chair and Vice-Chair have easy access to administrative support, other board members might not be as fortunate. Qualities such as leadership, expertise, and previous board experience are vital. Nevertheless, direct involvement with the police services board and participation in provincial and national committees offer profound insights into modern police governance, proving to be indispensable.
Although my comments may appear inconsequential, particularly in light of Dr. Beck’s outstanding credentials, the underlying principle is crucial. True representation of the community can only be achieved when the Board, under the leadership of its chairperson, involves every member and values their distinctive insights, reflecting their unique skills and experiences. Adhering to these sound governance practices will equip the Board and its newly appointed Chair to respond adeptly during critical situations, such as the Trucker Occupation.
While I sincerely hope for Dr. Beck to achieve profound success in her new role, the forthcoming path of the Ottawa Police Services Board remains unclear, be it preserving the status quo or undergoing significant transformations. I genuinely hope that the Chair faces no obstacles to her decisions due to full adherence to governance and bylaws during the appointment process.
Daljit S. Nirman is a lawyer, author, community builder and former member of the Ottawa Police Services Board and Ontario Association of Police Services Board. Views are personal.