by Robin Browne
In his message, Testing Leadership: An Inconvenient Truth, posted on the Ottawa Police Association website, OPA president Matt Skof says Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly has failed on all five tests of exemplary leadership: setting an example for people to emulate; creating a shared vision to rally around; creating an environment in which people safely experiment with new ideas; and building upon the successes within the group. Skof also accuses the Chief of being “loose with the facts and reckless in [his] conclusions” in the Chief’s Sept. 4 Ottawa Citizen editorial, Ottawa police are committed to resolving bias and systemic racism. The editorial addresses an incident where a white cop stopped a Black man for expired plates only to admit they weren’t when the man insisted on getting out of the car to check.
Skof is the one playing loose with the facts as Chief Sloly has clearly met all five leadership objectives: just not in the way Skof likes.
Since taking over in October 2019, Chief Sloly has created a shared vision to rally around and set a clear example for people to emulate via the actions he has taken in support of that vision. Under his leadership, the OPS has significantly increased its capacity to drive the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the organization, including implementing the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan, which includes a specific action item to address “racial profiling.” The OPS also implemented the Respect, Values & Inclusion (RVI) Directorate – to ensure full implementation, ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement. And the OPS announced major organizational and operational changes to better serve all its members and better work with community partners – especially members of the most marginalized and racialized communities.
To do all this, Chief Sloly has built on the successes within the OPS as evidenced by things like promoting Isobel Granger to superintendent to lead the new RVI directorate. Lastly, the Chief has certainly created an environment in which people can feel safe to experiment with new ideas around diversity and inclusion.
Skof plays loose with the facts to make this point. He says the officer who stopped the Black man for the non-expired plates “performed a random license plate review and identified an irregularity – the plate looked to be expired.” Since the issue at hand is whether the officer stopped the driver because he was Black, what is Skof’s proof that the stop was random? And what is meant by the plate “looked to be expired”? Did the cop read it wrong the first time?
Skof mentions the traffic stop study that the OPS was mandated to participate in a few years ago, citing two conclusions: in 88.6% of stops, the officers could not identify the race of the driver and that the data did not confirm a bias within the police service. What he doesn’t mention is that the study also found that Middle Eastern and black drivers — particularly young men — were far more likely to be stopped by Ottawa police than other drivers. He also doesn’t mention that the OPS was forced to take part in the study after a young Black man, Chad Aiken, filed a human rights complaint against the force for being stopped while driving his mother’s Mercedes.
Skof says, “the Chief’s narrative now rests on a mistaken traffic stop, conducted by a two-year employee – for Sloly, this is more than enough to conclude that there is bias throughout the organization.”
Chief Sloly didn’t conclude there’s bias in the OPS based on this one stop. He concluded that based on, among other things, studies like the traffic stop study and the 2018 census of Ottawa Police Service officers and civilian employees that showed a deep divide over the force’s attempts to diversify its ranks.
Skof continues to take full advantage of his privilege to be ignorant. He doesn’t have to be aware of, let alone deal with, the reality that racism isn’t about intent, it’s about impact. It doesn’t matter what the officer’s intent was when he stopped the man. Given the number of Black men who have died at the hands of police in the US and Canada, the impact on a Black man of a white cop stopping him while driving, is severe – and it’s even worse when the Black man has done nothing wrong, as in this case. If the officer was sensitive to this he wouldn’t have responded to the man asking if he stopped him because he was Black by saying , “Stop it. No. Never. I didn’t even see who was driving the car. I was looking at the plate, sir.” Stop what? Suggesting that police stop Black people, especially young Black men in nice cars, just because they’re Black? The officer’s comment reflects a lack of awareness of both OPS history and the current post-George Floyd reality. Stop it? How about cops stop pulling us over for “driving while Black with valid plates”?
And while you’re at it, how about getting cops out of our schools? Skof disagrees, of course, and critiques Chief Sloly for not defending the School Resource Officer program that includes the controversial program that puts cops in schools. Skof cites a Jan. 2018 study on the School Resource Program in Peel Region, by Carleton professor Linda Duxbury. The study basically said everyone loved the program. The only problem is Duxbury didn’t separate out responses from Black students. Instead, she lumped everyone together as “people who considered themselves to be a member of a minority group.” That means, Black students’ answers could be potentially mixed in with women, any visible minority, LGBTQ+, white men feeling threatened by all the brown people around…well, you get the point.
Skof ends by saying, “As for Chief Sloly, a leader cannot be a community activist and a police chief at the same time – you must choose.” I’m not sure what Skof means by community activist but, to be a good police chief, you must be positively active in the community as Chief Sloly is. Skof should emulate his example.
Robin Browne is an African-Canadian communications professional and father of two boys. He lives in Ottawa.
Source: The “True” North