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Poll: The Chief's Choice

Police Chief Vern White has left the country to attend his own wedding and honeymoon. The timing is pretty awful, but he had no way of knowing in advance that his wedding date would conflict with the breaking loose of all hell for the Ottawa Police.

David Reevely says the Chief should have stayed home. That’s why we pay him the big bucks. “Walking away from a crisis will haunt you,” he says.

I often agree with Reevely, but not this time. I think the Chief managed the crisis as best he could while he was in town, and then he left it in the hands of a trusted deputy and those in charge of the investigation. This is a big problem and there will be ample opportunity for the Chief to continue dealing with it after his honeymoon. While Stacey Bonds was a catalyst for a crisis of public confidence, her experience was just one symptom of a more deeply rooted chronic problem with the Ottawa police. White wouldn’t be able to solve this problem by staying home and dealing with; it’s not something that’s going to be resolved quickly or easily.

Besides, the last thing the Chief needs is to start his marriage off by not getting married. Then he’d have a crisis at work AND at home. The wedding was planned well in advance (I assume) and in another country…the cost to him, and all the guests, of a postponement would be formidable. Maybe his job ought to be his highest priority almost all the time – but I think his marriage should come first on his wedding day. What do you think? (If you’re reading this in a feed reader or email, you’ll need to pop over to knitnut.net to vote.)


Coincidentally, I know a family who, just a couple of weeks ago, were all planning to go to a wedding in Mexico. It was the eldest son’s wedding. His parents and siblings were all going, as were hers, plus friends and other relatives. The day before they were scheduled to fly to Mexico, the youngest daughter died. (She’d had lifelong health problems, and she died of natural causes, but I think her death at this time was unexpected.) So the family faced this weird dilemma. Go to Mexico and celebrate the wedding and try to delay grieving. Or delay the wedding and stay in Canada and grieve. There were complicating financial factors (none of them has a lot of money) and some of the guests had already arrived in Mexico. What would you do?

27 comments to Poll: The Chief’s Choice

  • I’m with you–to a point. Let’s see what ol’ Vern does on his return. Anything less than firing the five officers involved is an insult to the citizenry.

    Vern talks a great game, but let’s see if there’s any substance to his oh-so-shocked public commentary.

  • Re the chief of police, I would stick with the wedding plans, but shorten or postpone the honeymoon.

  • I think he needs to address the union call to “circle wagons” , but let the man have his wedding and honeymoon. This can wait in the deputy’s hands a few weeks.

  • Gillian

    The Chief can’t just fire constables. He’s not allowed to, i.e.. it’s against the law. In fact he has been saying that police chiefs in Ontario need greater flexibility so they can get rid of people. There’s an Act. Even setting out to fire them, they may go on paid leave for an eternity while it’s appealed and appealed. They’re unionized, and while a union protects against problems to the worker, it also protects workers that should be let go.

  • I agree with the masses. A wedding is much more than just a vacation, and should not be given up unless there is a severe and immediate crisis. This is severe, but it will be going on for a long time. I say he should have his wedding.

    So sorry to hear about the family whose daughter died. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong answer here. It should be a decision made by the parents of the daughter and the bride and groom together. I hope they can find some peace.

  • Chris

    Have any of you been part of a large organization during a period of stress or crisis? Did any of you criticise Tony Hayward (the former CEO of BP) for taking about 24 hours to attend a yacht race during the months long gulf spill? Did you see the Enbridge CEO on vacation during the pipeline leak this summer?

    Sorry to be so frank, but it is naive nonsense to suggest that the Chief’s discretionary absence during a major OPS crisis is acceptable.

    What it is is negligent. The Chief clearly does not consider multiple alleged abuse cases on his watch to be a serious problem. The Chief’s behaviour and pronouncements last week suggested exactly that. His absence this week confirms it. The PSB and the Mayor are also negligent for allow the absence.

    • Arden

      I agree with the majority, the chief deserves his wedding day. Perhaps, as Abby suggests, he should postpone, or shorten his honeymoon plans, but certainly not the wedding itself.

      Chris, I think there’s a real difference between attending one’s own wedding, and going to watch a yacht race. Is there honestly anything that he would be able to do in the next few days, other than have yet more press conferences? As pointed out, it’s not as if the officers can simply be fired, and until the investigations are complete there are many things that cannot be done.

      Should he spend yet more time in press conferences and some strategy meetings that his deputy could very well handle instead of getting married?

  • Dr. Dawg, agreed. Heads need to roll. But, as Gillian says, the Chief doesn’t have the power to fire them. (Although, I used to be in a union and management used to say they couldn’t fire anybody because of the union – and it wasn’t true. They could, they just had to follow the outlined procedures, including documentation and warnings and so on. They couldn’t fire people impulsively. I don’t know if the police union works the same way or not.)

    Abby, that might have been a reasonable compromise position.

    Mudmama, the last time I heard that call to “circle the wagons” was when you and W split up and you put out a call to “circle the minivans.” Remember?

    Gillian, I’m pro-union but I don’t like the police union at all.

    Finola, good points. As for the family whose daughter died – they did go to Mexico, and they had a memorial service yesterday, after they got home. I’m sure it was an emotionally complicated time for all of them.

    Chris, as Arden says, there’s a big difference between a yacht race and one’s own wedding. I think the only thing that keeping the Chief here would have accomplished is in the optics department. Frankly, I’m more interested in seeing real change than in seeing a well-crafted illusion.

    • Chris

      What’s the difference between a yacht race and a tropical wedding to the men and women of the OPS, exactly? What the difference to those who have been beaten in OPS detention?

      Folks hereabouts are being tremendously naive. The Chief and the Mayor are trying desperately to characterise the continuing detainee abuse by OPS as isolated. They are, indeed, trying to make this about “optics”. Problem is, it is about beating detainees for most of the duration of this chief’s watch and his apparent blindness to the problem.

      Meanwhile, the members of the force known damn well what the truth is and exactly how widespread or not the problem is. And where’s the force’s leader when the OPS is in flames? On the beach.

      On. The. Friggin’. Beach.

      Now that’s a very powerful message being sent to the vast majority of honest OPS members: the Chief places his personal convenience over the integrity of the force or the public trust of the force.

      This abuse problem is the Chief’s responsibility – although he has yet to accept any responsibility – and his current absence only compounds the failure.

      The OPS requires a leadership change. Immediately. (And no, before you accuse me, I have no union sympathies and, indeed, generally see unions as a negative influence in most situations.)

      • Chris, you make a strong case, and I almost changed my mind about some of it.

        I think up until this point, there was an attempt to characterize abusive behaviour on the part of cops as isolated incidents and the work of a few bad apples. But in recent weeks there has been a major shift in the way the leadership is viewing and talking about what’s going on. They know they have a systemic problem. They know it goes way beyond a few bad apples. And they know we know.

        I don’t believe this problem started on this Chief’s watch – I’ve heard horror stories from the cell block from decades ago. But the chief either knew about it or he should have known about it, and therefore it’s ultimately his responsibility.

        He didn’t create the problem, but it’s his problem to fix. Personally, I think he can do it. If it turns out he can’t, then we can talk about replacing him with someone who can.

      • Chris

        [Seems the comment engine doesn't allow more than two levels of reply, so I'm forced to 'reply' to myself]

        Zoom, does that handle refer to the velocity of your replies? ;)

        I’ve not suggested the problem is either unique to the OPS nor that it began on this chief’s watch.

        What we do know:
        – the problem exists on this chief’s watch
        – the problem only came to light because of the Bonds charges being tossed by a court, the oPS has no process to reveal such misconduct
        – within days of that ruling, by my count, three more documented case of potential abuse came to light
        – the only case that have been revealed are those that are supported by video tape
        – the misconduct persisted under this chief
        – this Chief was either unaware of the misconduct, unable or unwilling to stamp it out
        – the Chief chose beach over his duty to the OPS and citizens of this city

        You trust this Chief to “fix” the problem. I think you are making the same mistake as the media and politicians. As citizens who grant extraordinary powers to the OPS, we need and must insist on far more than simple sanctions against a few bad cops.

        We need to know how widespread the misconduct is. What really happens to detainees outside the view of video tape? How long this has been happening? When did the Chief know? Why the Chief didn’t know and/or act sooner? What and when did the command staff know? Why previous Chief’s didn’t act? Finally we need absolute confidence that the problem is solved and the accountability and transparency from the OPS to guarantee we can monitor their behaviour.

        Do you honestly believe that the ‘beach’ Chief and this PSB intend to address those issues?

        I do not. Thus the desperate need for a change of leadership and an independent inquiry.

    • Again, Chris, you make some compelling points. One thing I agree absolutely with you on is that we need an independent inquiry. The police union was way too delighted that the deputy called in the OPP to investigate the most recent two cases. Cops back cops – it’s part of their culture, part of the ‘brotherhood.’ They simply cannot be trusted to be impartial when investigating one another.

      I’m not, however, convinced that we need a change of leadership. (I just read by the way that the Chief did offer to resign. And also that he’s not on a beach – he’s in Finland. The wedding is this weekend.)

      • Chris

        I heard the Finland reference myself just an hour or so ago. I though I had heard tropical on another report. Nevertheless, Finland it is for the Chief. I stand corrected. (As an aside, where I come from, “on the beach” means not working.)

        Without knowing the context of the offer to resign, I don’t take it as a serious offer. There has been no PSB meeting (as far as I know) since the Bonds story broke. The resignation offer was apparently made in a private conversation with Eli El-Chantiry, the current PSB chair. One could speculate the it was a sincere offer, or even “I’m going to Finland and on my honeymoon, and if the PSB tells me not to, I’ll resign” or anything in between.

        Mayor Watson is largely keeping his head down and I see absolutely no leadership from him on the issue. Parroting the Chief’s talking points is politically savvy but not up to the high standard he claimed for himself during the election.

        I’d urge anyone reading this conversation to consider calling their councillor and demanding an independent inquiry. That’s the only way we have any hope of getting to the root of the problems within the OPS.

        Enjoyed ‘talking’ to you, Zoom.

        – c

  • Catherine

    I would definitely go to the wedding, in both cases. Life should go on in times of crisis and being with family hopefully “recharges you” and helps you cope.

  • I totally agree with this post!

  • AB

    In m6y opinion, the officers in question would be home, temporarily and “conditionally” unemployed until the Chief comes back from his honeymoon or trip around the world (if you want). Thing is, when the Chief is away, the deputy takes over. Why can’t the police treat themselves like they would any other criminal? Is’nt their stunt illegal? Was that not freaking brutal? Even while the SIU or OPP or KGB is investigating, don’t anyone think the logical next step to take is to get the fox out of the hen house? What about the cops rights you ask? So what… right now, the chief is gone, so let him take care of it when he comes back… meanwhile, the cops stay home.

    • I think some of the cops involved in the abuse of Stacey Bonds have been taken out of the cell block. I believe the Chief saw to that before leaving the country.

  • The chief needs to get serious about this. What has he been doing the last few years of his tenure? Violent idiots are hired, over and over again. When they act out, as they are bound to do, we hear that it was just one rotten apple. Then nothing changes.

    Something is rotten in the police department’s hiring process. Who is in charge of hiring? Fire them. They aren’t doing their job. Don’t protect them. Get them out of there.

    And what about the chief? He has turned a blind eye to this for too long. Maybe he needs to go too.

    I’m just sick of this. Get it done.

    • I’m not sure it’s in the hiring process, Robin. There are some interesting studies that show that most people will become abusive when given too much power and the encouragement to use it. (Check out the Stanford Prison Experiment.)

      A breakfast waitress said to me today that she thinks there’s very little difference between cops and criminals – they both want to play with guns and go where trouble is and be part of the action. There may be an issue with they type of personalities that are drawn to police work. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a greater percentage of sociopaths among the cop population than among the general population. (I guess it would also be higher among the criminal, lawyer, corrections and politician populations.)

  • I’m with Catherine – life goes on.

  • He should have stayed… or gone for the wedding, but skip the honeymoon — for the same reason national or provincial leaders visit hospitals after a disaster: it makes people feel better to know the person in charge is doing something. And that means something to a lot of people.

    I caught the end of a news bit and the guy talking was listed as “acting-chief”, and my first thought was “holy shit, Vern stepped down / they fired Vern”. But now it’s “Vern’s on holiday..?”. Putting out the ‘vice president’ or ‘deputy minister’ in front of the cameras during a crisis changes the story.

    • Gabriel, I always find it weird when presidents (for example) tour disaster sites. Especially Bush, taking helicopter tours of New Orleans after thoroughly botching the Katrina response. It always look like they’re taking advantage of a photo op rather than demonstrating genuine concern. And if they *are* genuinely concerned, surely they could think of something more useful to do than taking a tour of the disaster.

      It turns out Vern’s in Finland, by the way.

  • What did the Mexico wedding people decide to do? I am on the edge of my seat. It’s such a hard choice. I think what they should have done is have the couple in question go on the trip and get married in a much more subdued ceremony than originally planned, and then fly home early for the funeral. The parents and siblings would have the choice of attending or not, depending on what they felt up to.

    But anything they chose to do is okay by me. I can’t imagine how I would feel in that scenario.

    • They went to Mexico as planned for the week, then came back and had a memorial service. (Maybe someday I’ll blog about the bizarre Facebook status updates.)

  • Sharon Healey

    Never mind all this I thought he was already married?

  • I believe he’s on his second marriage.