Secret recording reveals deep rift over plan to hire new Ottawa police chief during convoy crisis
A secretly taped conversation between Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the Councillor. Diane Deans over a failed plan to hire a new police chief at the height of last winter’s convoy protest played out Wednesday at the public inquiry into the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to help end the crisis.
The Feb. 16 tape, which was not presented to the commission until Wednesday morning, was entered into evidence before the Public Order Emergency Commission on Wednesday afternoon. The tense call was recorded by Deans’ assistant without Watson’s knowledge, she later testified.
The call, which came the day after former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly announced his resignation, begins with Watson asking the Deans for an update on the plan to replace Sloly and restore “organizational stability” after nearly three weeks of disruption in the city’s downtown. .
I hope you’re not rushing, because I think that would be a mistake at this point.– Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson
“So basically, I’m going to sign a contract with a new chef today and I think he’ll start on Monday,” Deans told him.
“Who is it and how did you find it?” asks a stunned Watson.
Dean explains that the new employee was Matt Torigian, former chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, whose name was on a short list of potential candidates put forward by the Solicitor General’s office.
“He’s going to bring a team with him, basically made up of ex-chefs with a lot of deep knowledge, who are going to come in and help him put an end to this thing,” Deans said, describing her as a “semi ‘CDI’ of 3 at 10 months.
“It’s obviously a surprise,” Watson told him.
“So it’s done”
The two discuss what this will mean for Deputy Chief Steve Bell, who had just been named Acting Chief.
“The way I see it is that it’s probably going to save Steve’s opportunity to be the next leader, because you know the [poisonous] environment that we have right now. Whoever we put in there won’t last very long, and Steve is going to be blamed for that,” Deans said, referring to the occupation.
“I thought we were going to be fine with Steve. So it’s a big done deal,” Watson replied.
Deans told him that the Ottawa Police Services Board had approved Torigian’s hiring the day before, but that the contract had not been signed.
“I mean, if you want to tell me you don’t think you want me to sign this contract, I mean I can go back to the board and tell them you’d rather not, but I actually believe it’s the right thing to do, Jim.”
Watson expressed concern that the new hire, which he described in testimony earlier this week as “three bosses in three days”, would be “very disruptive”, especially as it came just before what was to be a move by the police towards dispersing the protesters.
“I don’t support that. I think it’s the wrong approach at the wrong time,” Watson said, describing the idea as a “show” that could potentially jeopardize any plan to end the occupation. Watson told Deans he was also concerned about a lack of transparency or consultation, particularly with the city’s BIPOC community.
“Internal angst” within the Ottawa police
Deans argued that hiring an experienced and respected lawyer could bring stability to the Ottawa Police Service.
“There is internal angst in the upper ranks right now,” she said.
As mayor, Watson cannot legally direct the police commission in its decision-making, but Deans again offered to defer to his authority.
“If you tell me not to, then I won’t,” she said.
“I hope you don’t rush into that, because I think that would be a mistake at this point, and I think that would undermine Steve Bell,” Watson replied.
As Watson testified earlier this week, the contract was nonetheless signed later that day, but Torigian quickly withdrew his name and Bell continued as interim boss.
Plot to oust the deans of the presidency
Deans also asked Watson if there was a behind-the-scenes plot among fellow board members to oust him as chairman of the board.
“I’ve been working really hard for the past 20 days, I think it would be a courtesy to at least let me know what’s happening to me,” she told him.
“I haven’t seen any motions,” Watson said, telling her he hadn’t decided whether to support a vote of no confidence.
Deans was removed as chairman of the police board in a city council vote the next day.
When asked during cross-examination whether she had any ethical qualms about having her assistant record the call without Watson’s knowledge, Deans said no.
“I just wanted to make sure we had an accurate reflection of that meeting,” she said, noting that Watson hadn’t revealed to her that City Manager Steve Kanellakos was also on the call.
“I don’t think it was calculated,” Deans said of the recording. “It was a very tense moment.”
When asked after giving evidence whether she felt the rift between her and the mayor contributed to any delay in police action that ended the occupation, Deans said she was not. certain.
“What was the consequence? I mean, the mayor and council unsettled the board in the middle of a crisis. I don’t think that was helpful,” Deans told reporters.
“I think when things got tough, the police commission and, to some extent, the chief of police were convenient scapegoats.”