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Police chiefs seek an end to suspensions with pay

A Ottawa Police officer stand by the front front door of former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's condo April 10, 2014 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's police chiefs want the province to allow them to suspend officers without pay for violating their code of conduct, despite opposition from one of the province's biggest police unions.

At its annual general meeting on Wednesday, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police approved a resolution asking the province to amend the Police Services Act to allow chiefs to suspend police officers without pay when those officers have committed "serious" violations of their code of conduct and the chief is seeking to dismiss the officer.

It is an expansion of a call the chiefs made in 2007 for the government to grant them the ability to suspend officers without pay for serious criminal-code violations.

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"If you have offended your oath of office and you are impacting the trust of the public in such a negative way, why should [the public] continue to pay you?" said Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, who brought forward the resolution at the meeting.

Currently, Ontario is the only province where suspended officers must be paid. Under the Police Services Act – which hasn't been updated or amended in more than 20 years – suspended officers can have their pay withheld only if they are convicted of an offence and sentenced to prison. Officers who are convicted of crimes but not sentenced to prison are entitled to keep receiving their salary until they are dismissed or resign. The chiefs want to change that.

If the government amends the act to include the chiefs' resolution, officers who violate their code of conduct could also be suspended without pay, even if they haven't committed a crime. These types of violations include insubordination or, in one recent case, keeping pornography on an office computer. In the past, some cases have dragged on, with officers collecting salaries while suspended for years at a time, only to resign or retire right before their hearing.

The chiefs' association has been consulting with police unions to try to find a way to implement these changes while still keeping officers protected against arbitrary suspensions. The Toronto Police Association, one of the province's largest police unions, is tentatively on board with unpaid leave for criminal charges so long as there are fair rules in place. But the union is "fundamentally" opposed to allowing unpaid suspensions for code-of-conduct offences, president Mike McCormack said.

"What do you do when you have an officer – the majority, I would venture to say – that is vindicated? Are we going to have all these officers not working and not getting paid and then getting vindicated later?" Mr. McCormack said. "If there's a problem with the system, then we need to fix that system, not just arbitrarily give the chiefs that ultimate power."

Any changes to the Police Services Act are at the discretion of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which created the Future of Policing Advisory Committee in 2012 to consider whether there is a need to reform the Police Services Act. Minister Yasir Naqvi said unpaid suspensions are just one of many issues the committee is considering, but he wouldn't take a side on the matter.

Both the police chiefs and the police unions agree on one front: Suspension without pay is just part of a larger issue of what they consider to be an out-of-date and inefficient system for disciplining officers in the province.

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