If you know why Hamilton councillor Terry Whitehead is being allowed to return to the police services board, then you may want to explain it to the entire community, because officially, the public is being kept in the dark about the machinations of the board, and its oversight body the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
Because of the ingrained secrecy of the police services board, and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, which conducted a four-month probe of Whitehead’s actions over the last year, the community has no idea why Whitehead is returning to the board, or for that matter, the reasoning behind the investigation in the first place.
The police services board, under its acting chair Lloyd Ferguson, issued a curt news release Oct. 11 stating Whitehead will be returning to the board. OCPC, which oversees the activities of the board, didn’t release a report on the investigation, nor did it provide any arguments for its recommendation. The entire process has left the community in the dark about what transpired at the board, and has muddied Whitehead’s credibility.
The outspoken councillor was alleged to have been under investigation for a series of incidents at the board, such as insulting some members, throwing papers on a desk, and calling Police Chief Glenn De Caire a “liar.”
The councillor did apologize for his actions, but some board members called on the OCPC to investigate the politician. However, the board has never provided a clear reason why they wanted the investigation.
In any other investigation by a board, agency, municipal integrity commissioner or consultant, a thorough report is provided to the public detailing the reason for the investigation, how it was conducted, the arguments that are being challenged and the final recommendations. This is done for many reasons: to eliminate any hint of bias; to “clear the air” among parties to the public; to provide an element of fairness and to make the entire process transparent, an essential part of any investigation of an important issue or person.
This isn’t the first time that the commission has proven to be closed-mouthed. During the ruckus over whether Ferguson’s appointment to the board was legal, OCPC refused to provide clarity on its position, and kept the police services board and council in the dark about what it was going to do. Eventually, it allowed Ferguson’s appointment by council to stand.
This sort of secrecy and Soviet-era silence is more than disturbing, since OCPC’s primary responsibility as a civilian body is to oversee the workings of police officers and members of police boards. The commission even contains among its eight “values” that transparency should be followed for the benefit of the public. But as residents have so clearly seen, the commission fails miserably in meeting even the basic fundamentals of being accountable to the public.
If the public can’t rely on OCPC to provide clarity and transparency, where does the public look to for any resolution? Obviously, it’s up to the provincial government to force the commission to do the right thing and provide the necessary transparency to communities.
So far Hamilton’s police services board and OCPC have failed on all aspects to be accountable and transparent to the community.