OCPC Gives Ruling On Preliminary Review of Police Services Board Chair

In Local

A enquiry that started out on July 22, 2019 and has come to completion on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Ten months after Today’s Northumberland e-mailed the Ontario Civilian Police Commission they have concluded their review.

The OCPC is an independent, quasi-judicial agency. It is one of five tribunals in the Safety, Licensing Appeals and Standards Tribunals Ontario (SLASTO) cluster.

The OCPC hears appeals, adjudicates applications, conducts investigations and resolves disputes regarding the oversight and provision of policing services.

Today’s Northumberland sent an e-mail to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission concerning the Cobourg Police Services Board on July 22, 2019.

A number of questions were asked to OCPC at that time including if the Board and the Police Service should have the same communications person and is it proper for the Chair of the Board to share his “personal view” on a business or “style of reporting?”

This came about from a e-mail conversation between Today’s Northumberland and Cobourg Police Service Board Chair Dean Pepper on July 19, 2019.  The e-mail thread was posted on the Cobourg Police Services Board itinerary for the August 13, 2019 Board meeting at Venture 13.

On August 29, 2019 OCPC Registrar Celia Lieu sent a e-mail concerning questions that were asked and said a “preliminary review” was taking place into the matter.

“In regard to your concerns about Chair Pepper’s comments about the reporting of Today’s Northumberland, the Commission recognizes the importance of freedom of expression, both for private citizens and the press,” states the e-mail from Ms. Lieu.

“However, Chair Pepper is not just a private citizen he is also a public figure, in his role as Chair of the Board and consequently, subject to the Members of Police Services Board – Code of Conduct. O Reg 421/97 (“Code of Conduct”) which provides as follows:

no board member shall purport to speak on behalf of the board unless authorized by the board to do so.

“It is arguable that Chair Pepper’s comments about the style of reporting in Today’s Northumberland may be perceived as being on behalf of the entire Board. It is unclear whether the Board has authorized Chair Pepper to make such comments. Please be advised that the Commission will, therefore, be conducting a preliminary review of Mr. Pepper’s conduct and whether it might constitute a breach of s. 5 of the Code of Conduct.”

From that point on there was no communication from OCPC other than to state the review was continuing.

On May 21, 2020 OCPC sent their decision to Today’s Northumberland.

Part of their decision by Director of Operations Tribunals Ontario Lorissa Sciarra is listed below.

“The Commission has concluded its preliminary review and, on the basis of the information, it has gathered, has decided not to take any formal steps into this matter.

“The Commission has determined that Chair Pepper’s conduct does not meet the threshold for misconduct under the Members of Police Services Boards – Code of Conduct. While it could be reasonably be inferred that Chair Pepper was speaking on behalf of the Cobourg Police Services Board (“Board”) when he signed his email on July 19, 2019 using his Board signature, he stated in his subsequent correspondence with you that he was giving his personal opinion and was not speaking on behalf of the Board. The Commission has advised Chair Pepper that, while in his role as Chair, when he communicates his personal opinion, it must be clear from the outset that he is speaking on behalf of himself only and not the Board.”

“Additionally, Chair Pepper admitted that he misspoke when, in his communication with you, he referred to Ms. Debattista as the Service and Board’s Communications Officer. The Board’s policy states that all communications to the Board were to go through the Board’s Executive Assistant. Chair Pepper confirmed that at no time had the Board directed Ms. Debattista to conduct work outside of her job description. He further confirmed that the Board communicates messages through the Chairperson and the Service operates through its regular communication channels. The Commission generally accepts Chair Petter’s explanation and has advised that actions, however unintentional, that compromise either the independence, or the percetion of independence, of the Board ought to be avoided.”

“In light of the foregoing, the Commission will not initiate an investigation and will close its file on this matter.”

OCPC states at no time was this a formal investigation. It was a “preliminary review.”

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

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