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Liberals exempt police services boards from ombudsman’s oversight

Opposition raises alarm about government exempting police boards from ombudsman oversight
June 22, 2015
By Rob Ferguson

The opposition is raising alarm bells after the Liberal government quietly pulled back on oversight powers promised to ombudsman Andre Marin, axing police services boards from the list.

After passing a much-trumpeted accountability law in December, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government passed a regulation behind closed doors exempting police boards from examination by the ombudsman’s office at a time when carding and other issues are in the news.

“It sends the wrong message on openness and transparency,” said Progressive Conservative House leader Steve Clark.

“The government says one thing and then it does something completely different.”

He said the timing of the move “seems curious” given that the chair of the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board - a prominent Liberal fundraiser and operative - is under OPP investigation for bribery.

The probe involving Gerry Lougheed Jr. centres on allegations he offered a job to former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier to keep him out of last February’s byelection, which was won by former New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault after he defected to the provincial Liberals.

Lougheed has denied any wrongdoing.

Treasury Board President Deb Matthews defended the change, saying the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act significantly expanded ombudsman oversight to municipalities, school boards and more.

“Whenever you do something like that you have to say, OK, how far, where do you draw the lines?” she told reporters Monday.

“When it comes to police, there is a lot of oversight of police services boards already ... it’s not a loss of oversight, it’s that it wasn’t added.”

Police boards are overseen by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, Matthews said.

The request for an exemption was made by a number of large police services boards.

That creates a dangerous precedent that other public bodies will ask to be excluded from ombudsman oversight as well, Clark warned.

“There was no advance warning the government was going to make the change and it just begs the question what other changes are they contemplating?”

Clark questioned whether the Ontario Civilian Police Commission is the right body to keep a watchful eye on police boards in an era when the politics of policing and sensitive issues are increasingly in the news.

“They didn’t meet for a couple of months, they’re not providing advice to the Greater Sudbury board until after all of the investigations are over. I’m not sure they’re the group that should be providing the final oversight.”

Marin declined comment. His second five-year term in the watchdog post has been extended until mid-September while an all-party legislative committee considers whether to keep him on or hire someone new.