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Canada Ontario PCs criticized for appointing all-male panel to review OPP culture

Ontario Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones speaks to members of the media at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 7, 2019.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government has appointed an all-male panel to probe workplace culture at the provincial police force, raising questions about whether the review will adequately address gender discrimination and harassment issues facing female employees.

Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones on Monday announced that Ontario will spend up to $500,000 for an independent review panel to examine culture at the Ontario Provincial Police following recent suicides, as well as complaints by current and former OPP staff.

The three-member panel will consist of former Superior Court associate chief justice Douglas Cunningham, former deputy attorney-general Murray Segal and former NDP cabinet minister David Cooke.

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In an interview, Ms. Jones said the government chose its three panelists based on experience in government and the judiciary.

“We wanted that expertise and unfortunately in this particular panel … we couldn’t put in a female at this time,” she said.

“The Premier has appointed the solicitor-general and the attorney-general as females, so I don’t think it’s a case of being excluded. We first and foremost wanted individuals who had experience and background in this type of work, which is why we’ve asked these three individuals to serve.”

Ms. Jones said the panel’s agenda will be driven by the feedback it hears from OPP members, civilian workers, retired officers and the general public, and that much of the work will be completed online.

“We have to be fiscally responsible. And frankly, a lot of these stories, I’m not sure that people would want to share in a very public forum," she said.

Ms. Jones has said the OPP is facing a mental-health crisis, with 13 officers having taken their own lives since 2012. She called the statistics “deeply concerning.”

Ms. Jones said the panel’s review will be “comprehensive,” with an interim report by midsummer and a final report expected by fall. They will be paid a standard per diem of $1,200 for days they work.

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The OPP’s Civilian Association of Managers and Specialists (CAMS), which currently has a complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging systemic gender discrimination by the service, expressed disappointment with the “ironic” lack of female representation on the panel.

“If the issues of systemic gender discrimination are left out of the review, unfortunately, the panel will become another example of the lack of insight by the OPP about our work and the conditions of our work where women are viewed as second class,” OPP human-resources manager Lee-Anne McFarlane said in an e-mail statement on behalf of CAMS.

Debra Langan, an associate professor of criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, said academic research has highlighted the need for cultural changes in policing.

“I find it shocking that the committee is to be made up of all men. I wonder how that kind of decision was made,” Prof. Langan said.

Both the NDP and Liberals said the Progressive Conservative government missed an opportunity to represent women. “Their voices and their perspectives should be part of that panel,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, has worked with numerous police services across Canada through her research. She said her main concern isn’t that the panel does not include any women – it’s that it doesn’t include any police officers.

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“I would have expected to have people who knew something about policing, and/or about mental health, and/or about organizational culture. They picked people who – it seems like they’re political appointments,” she said. "If I was to be extremely cynical – which, believe me, many police officers are – this is again the Ford government showing the OPP who’s boss.”

The creation of the panel comes after the government announced new mental-health supports for provincial police officers last month. The province will fully fund that program, with the police union delivering it.

Ontario Provincial Police Association president Rob Jamieson said his organization has yet to see the terms of reference but broadly supports the review.

“Workplace harassment, bullying – that exists to some degree within the OPP," he said. "If this process can assist the OPP Association in holding people accountable, in bringing about changes, systemic changes, so that type of behaviour is rooted out … I welcome the assistance.”

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said he welcomes the work of the panel.

“The OPP will provide our full support to the panel as they conduct their review and make recommendations to improve the working lives of our uniform and civilian members,” he said in a statement.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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