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Canada Ottawa police officer charged for allegedly creating racist meme as force launches probe into media leaks

19:55  01 june  2020
19:55  01 june  2020 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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Peter Sloly wearing a black shirt: Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, Peter Sloly © Errol McGihon Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, Peter Sloly

An Ottawa police officer has been charged for allegedly creating and distributing what the service has called a racist meme depicting other police officers and the force has launched a widespread investigation into “unethical media leaks,” Chief Peter Sloly announced in an open letter Monday morning.

In a more than 1,500-word letter issued after a weekend of unrest south of the border, Sloly addressed criticisms of police both in the world and in Ottawa.

“The local and international events of the last two months have shaken me as a police professional and as a person — from the still unfolding impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, to the tragic events in Minneapolis, to the latest series of internal and public trust issues affecting the Ottawa Police Service.”

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Protests continued across the U.S. on the weekend over the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of the African-American man during an arrest. A police officer has been charged with third-degree murder.

“In these times we need to remain inspired to do our best and help every person and every community in Ottawa,” wrote Sloly.

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Indeed, Ottawa’s top cop acknowledged the particularly turbulent time for the local force, which has been racked with public misconduct allegations against members, from constables all the way up to a deputy chief. The allegations include creating memes of fellow officers; sexual harassment; ties to the criminal underworld; taking money from tow truck operators; and video-taping vulnerable women and mocking them.

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“We need to be clear-eyed about the current state of affairs and remain fully committed to leading the organization through this tough and troubling period,” wrote Sloly.

He addressed various conduct allegations against officers, saying there are a number of “active and ongoing Professional Standards Section  investigations and legal proceedings into the conduct of our members.

“The OPS will continue to apply the highest levels of integrity, intensity, investment and innovation in all such matters.”

The investigation into a meme depicting officers is “now fully concluded,” Sloly said. “We have laid Police Services Act charges against one member relating to the creation and distribution of one of the memes.”

This newspaper has previously reported that a drug unit officer was suspended in that investigation.

The meme shows a composite photo of 13 current or former officers, the majority of whom are racialized. The words “Ottawa Police Service” appears above the photograph, with “We’re always hiring … anyone” appearing below. Twelve of the 13 people shown in the meme have either been accused or convicted of some form of misconduct, although the meme doesn’t explicitly note this.
While Sloly had previously called the meme “an overt act of racism,” that language was absent from his update Monday on the status of the investigation.

“We can rarely if ever determine the true intent of a person’s acts but we can see the impacts of those acts,” he wrote.

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Sloly said that “regardless of intent of the people involved in these acts, I will not fail to act to do the right things to assess, address and redress them while also doing all I can to protect all OPS members and all community members from those who seek to do harm to them.

“There are however additional issues that have arisen as a result of this investigation that need a broader set of corporate resolutions,” Sloly said.

The chief said “there was a significant leak of highly confidential and sensitive information from this investigation to the media. This further victimized the people depicted in the memes along with their families and it victimized additional OPS members and their families.  It further damaged the OPS reputation and it further undermined the trust and confidence that the public has in the OPS.”

Sloly has launched “a full (Professional Standards Section) Administrative Investigation into leaks occurring in the OPS.”

In addition, the force is looking at how its culture allowed for the creation and distribution of the meme that officers forwarded along.

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“It was clear that relevant policies, training, procedures and practices were insufficient to prevent and manage this. As a result, we are overhauling related policies, we are addressing IT issues and every member of the OPS, myself included, will participate in a service-wide training and awareness initiative that will be completed in the next 12 months.”

These efforts are to begin immediately and “help the service to better understand and address the intersectionality issues affecting racialized and other minority members in our workplace.”

Sloly’s letter also addressed the service’s commitment to preventing and reducing sexual harassment in its ranks.

Officers, the association and police-watchers have criticized both the service and board’s handling of sexual harassment allegations made against Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal.

“There is no tolerance for workplace sexual violence and harassment in the OPS,” Sloly said. “We need to do everything possible to prevent such incidents from occurring while also increasing member confidence in reporting such incidents, reducing fear of reprisals and achieving better resolution outcomes.”

The service and board launched a joint project to address sexual harassment. Sloly’s letter notes that the project began the week of March 16. That was before Jaswal was suspended by the board. The project was publicly revealed in May.

Sloly reiterated that the service will not tolerate any forms of harassment in the force.

“No member should be targeted and/or marginalized because of the race, gender, religion or any of the prohibited grounds.”

Sloly also called on officers and civilian employees to not simply be bystanders if these acts occur. “If we see or hear something inappropriate then we must say and do the right things to address it. There are no more excuses.”

Sloly has often used the language of “fixing our house.” He said doing so will make our “family members healthy and safe (and) has been and will continue to be my number one priority.”

He called on officers to be aware of how efforts to undermine the work of the police and each other can happen in the workplace, “whether they be carried out as micro aggressions, bullying, mobbing, reprisals along with a variety of mean-spirited memes, unethical media leaks and all other related acts of omission and commission.”

Sloly said that “These are all examples of painful acts that negatively impact our members as well as the public’s trust in our service.”

More to come.

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