An Ontario court has ruled that police chiefs must yield to reasonable decisions from provincially appointed administrators when it comes to power struggles over whether to discipline police officers.
A Jan. 25 ruling by a panel of Ontario Superior Court divisional judges probed the “unusual, if not unique, circumstances” within Durham Regional Police Service. And it serves to close a chapter on a series of internal legal clashes that gave rise to public allegations about a wider “crisis of confidence” within the force.
The focal point of the ruling was former Durham chief Paul Martin’s decision to pursue disciplinary charges against Sergeant Nicole Whiteway in 2018.
Normally, a police chief has an unquestioned right to initiate such Police Services Act charges against any individual officer. The sanctions for those found guilty at internal tribunals can range from reprimands, to docked pay, to dismissal.
But Sgt. Whiteway and other Durham officers came forward later in 2018 with complaints of their own about the conduct of commanders, who they said were using disciplinary processes in bullying and harassment campaigns.
The complaints led Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones to initiate processes that resulted in an outside administrator being brought to review Durham police-discipline cases in 2019.
Last year, this administrator – the former Toronto Police deputy chief Mike Federico – ruled that it was in the public interest for the case against Sgt. Whiteway to be withdrawn. But Mr. Martin launched a legal application to overturn that decision shortly before he retired last summer.
Writing for a three-judge panel on Jan. 25, Justice Thomas Lederer ruled that his court had to defer to the logic of the appointed administrator.
“There is a presumption, arising from the source of his authority and the nature of his experience, that the Administrator has exercised his discretion independent of partisan concerns,” the ruling reads. “To rebut the presumption there must be a demonstration of some impropriety or bias on the part of the Administrator. There is none.”
No appeals of the ruling are being planned by the police force, which is now led by interim chief Todd Rollauer.
“We respect the court’s decision,” said Jodi MacLean, a spokeswoman for Durham Police. “I can confirm that the charges have now been withdrawn.”
A lawyer acting for Sgt. Whiteway said that his client is relieved. But she and other rank-and-file officers are still anticipating the release of an Ontario Civilian Police Commission report into the problems at the Durham Police Service.
“Life doesn’t go back to normal yet,” said Peter Brauti, adding that the OCPC is still seized with weighing in on what led to the struggles at the police force.
The now dropped case against Sgt. Whiteway involved allegations that she took a sum of money from her ex-husband after using her police-officer credentials to gain access to his apartment.
In her defence, she had contended that these charges were simply a “bargaining lever” being used by the police brass to put pressure on her into speaking out against another officer whose conduct was at issue with commanders.
“There was no way on Earth she was ever going to be found guilty on any of those allegations,” Mr. Brauti said.
This article first published here www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-court-rules-against-former-chief-of-police-in-durham-ending-a/