Ford PCs appoint local realtor once accused of trying to pay for Conservative party memberships to Peel Police Board
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer/Twitter

Ford PCs appoint local realtor once accused of trying to pay for Conservative party memberships to Peel Police Board

A Brampton realtor who was accused of violating federal Conservative party rules in 2017, when he allegedly tried to pay the membership fees for people while a candidate he was working with vied for the party leadership, has been appointed by the Doug Ford government to the Peel Police Services Board.

The move to appoint Ron Chatha for a three-year term comes as the board launched a national search for a new chief, following last month’s resignation of former chief Jennifer Evans. He’s the sixth member of the board and another will likely be added soon, to round it out to a full seven members, which was the number before the terms of two recent board members expired.

Ron Chatha and acting Chief Chris McCord

The decisions made by the board inside Peel Region council chambers over the next four years will have a ripple effect through the coming decades.

According to a statement by the board, Chatha, a Brampton resident, has next to no experience in the criminal justice field.

The statement says, “Outside of real estate, Ron has a lengthy history of serving his community. Passionate about community service, Ron is an active volunteer and is serving on many not-for-profit boards. He is serving as a board member for the Peel Children’s Aid Foundation and has also served on Brampton’s School Traffic Safety Council. He is also currently the Vice Chair for the Committee of Adjustment and Minor Variance for the City of Brampton.”

Critics in Peel have questioned why people with backgrounds in real estate, automotive sales and other professions with no connection to the complex world of criminal justice keep getting put on the police board. In a recent provincial review of policing, ahead of amendments to the Police Services Act that came into effect last year, it was suggested by many involved in the process to change requirements for police board members, to assure more experience and guarantee that political appointments would not be made with strings attached. But those suggestions were not included in the amended version of the Act. 

In 2014 the University of Toronto Faculty of Law published a paper that highlighted the problems with political appointees to police boards who have little experience in criminal justice, stating "they may fail to be sufficiently active in providing legitimate policy direction to the police."

In 2017 Chatha was accused by local residents of secretly offering to pay their party membership fees when he was president of the federal Brampton East Conservative Riding Association while also working with Kevin O’Leary who was trying to win the party’s leadership race.

The Globe and Mail published that it had received a sworn affidavit by six men stating that Chatha had attempted to commit membership fraud in order to help O’Leary.

Chatha denied the allegations against him and said he only signed up his own family. He told the Globe that he had flagged questionable membership practices and told the party to probe what was going on, which the party confirmed with the newspaper.

Other candidates vying for the leadership called for a review of the memberships that had been taken out and O’Leary's campaign team said it had not violated any rules, before he dropped out of the race shortly after, citing his slim chance of defeating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election.

Chatha’s appointment to the police board by the Ford government comes as a national search for a new chief has just begun.

A statement says, “The Board recently approved a plan that includes a competitive procurement process to retain an executive search firm to conduct a Canada-wide search. Once selected, the executive search firm will coordinate a community/stakeholder consultation process, as well as internal Peel Regional Police consultations for the executive search firm to assess public and internal feedback on attributes, priorities and expectations of the new chief. This information will be used by the executive search firm to draft a job description that will be made public later this spring.”

The choice of a new chief will set the force on a new course, amid widespread criticism of how it was run under Evans.

New police board chair Nando Iannicca, who is also the head of Peel Region, said the selection is one of the most important things that will be done at the regional level this term.  

Peel Police Board Chair and Peel Region Chair Nando Iannicca 

Some decisions will cause only a small stir – a project approval, a regional road widening, water and sewer system repair.

Others will produce a tremor that affects many choices made down the line, like dominos lined up on a table. The community safety and well-being plan could be one of them; an updated plan to deal with the impacts of climate change could be another.

But Iannicca said the decision on a new chief, which Chatha will have a say in, is the one that stands above all the rest. It has potential to produce a seismic shift, one that could change the culture, thinking and trajectory of the region indefinitely.

That’s how significant the choice of a new chief of the Peel Regional Police Service will be.

“(It’s the) most important decision we’re going to be making in this mandate of council,” says Iannicca, who was named chair of the Peel Regional Police Services Board on Jan. 18. The board is responsible for the hiring process and choosing a successor to Evans, who resigned last month.

“(We need) to make sure we get the right person for the role because she or he will be pivotal in setting the tone for the type of society we want to govern, live in, and enforce, and that’s going to be very, very crucial.”

Iannicca said he’s also eager to see Peel Police face up to concerns about diversity on the force. The recently approved police budget includes spending millions to hire 55 new officers a year for the next few years in an effort to tamp down the violent crime that shook the city in 2018.

Rob Serpe, executive director of the police board, told The Pointer the board would provide information on the selection process in the next few weeks including details on the scope of the hiring process.

Criminal activity comes in waves. Data trends show homicides, shootings and other forms of violent crime surging in the region some years, then levelling out in others.

For Peel, the search for a new chief comes at a time when tensions in the region are high. The past year saw some of the bloodiest criminal activity Peel has ever experienced, breaking records for shootings and nearly breaking a longtime record for homicides, with 26.

Concerns about violence overflowed during the summer months. Residents pleaded for answers during town hall meetings and at a community safety conference held in Mississauga.

A survey commissioned by The Pointer and completed by Forum Research at the end of August asked residents: "Overall, do you feel safer than you did four years ago?" Only 10 percent of those surveyed said yes; 26 percent said they felt about as safe as they did four years ago, and 65 percent said no.

So it was no surprise when outgoing chief Evans appeared before the board late in 2018 to appeal for increased funding to hire more officers.

“Am I concerned about violent crime? Absolutely I am,” Evans told the board during her budget presentation in November. “And have I seen an increase since 2015? Yes, I have, and I’ve been tracking it very seriously. There has been a lot of violent crime in the last few years, but in saying that, Peel Regional Police officers and all employees have been working very hard to ensure everyone’s community safety.”

The $423-million Peel police budget for 2019, a 5.4 percent increase over 2018, calls for adding 55 uniformed officers to the police service.

Of these 55 officers, 45 will be patrol officers working on the front lines, at a cost of $8.6 million, and 10 will be dedicated to the force’s speciality divisions, including training, IT, intelligence services and impaired-driving enforcement.

While the new chief will inherit whatever new budget is approved by regional council, the mantra of “more police officers” may need to change.

The additional officers would bring Peel Region closer to the provincial average for the ratio of police officers to population. Peel has about 138 officers per 100,000 residents, while the provincial average is 183 per 100,000 and the national average hovers around 188.

“We’re quick to hire the additional police officers, which I think we need, but at the end of the day, by the time they come, something has gone wrong,” says Iannicca.

It’s why he hopes a new chief will come with a sightly non-traditional, social justice mindset toward law enforcement – one that, instead of focusing on criminals in the act, puts more effort toward stopping people from becoming criminals in the first place.

That said, the plan is to continue adding 55 officers each year through 2022 in response to growth and the potential impact of cannabis legalization, according to preliminary budget documents. This increase would result in increased budget requests of 5.5 percent for 2020, 4.9 per cent in 2021 and 4.7 per cent in 2022.

“What’s the bigger picture? Are we strictly out to catch as many people and incarcerate as many people [as possible] or are we truly out to try and reduce crime? I think that’s where we have a role to play,” Iannicca says. “That whole social justice piece has to be brought forward as well. So it’s like all governments; it’s balance.”

That balance might also lead to savings.

According to data from the region, dollars spent on public health initiatives for social development, especially those aimed at youth, yield a more than five-fold savings to the health system. Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on programs geared at youth crime prevention and those that promote positive social development, $25 is put back into the local economy.

“If I could have 10 fewer police officers and be willing to give that money to social service agencies that are helping people, maybe I need 50 fewer police officers 30 years down the road,” Iannicca says.

The approved budget ask for 2019 also includes money for several capital projects, including $25.5 million for facilities, most of that ($20 million) to be dedicated to a divisional and operational facility. A further $17.1 million would be spent on new technology and equipment and $5.6 million on maintaining and updating the vehicle fleet.

While balancing the enforcement and social justice roles of the job, the new chief will also be tasked with cleaning up a police force that has seen misconduct rates three times higher than surrounding forces.

A 2016 Toronto Star investigation revealed that roughly 640 Peel officers, almost one-third of the force, had been disciplined for misconduct since 2010. This statistic came out shortly after Evans claimed that only 2 percent of the force's officers were disciplined for misconduct. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had roughly the same number of discipline cases during the same period, though it's a force nearly three times the size of Peel's.

“(It’s) very much a concern,” Iannicca says of the misconduct rates of Peel officers. “We have to do better.”

That means stopping the problem at the source, updating hiring practices, and taking a more critical look at the way business has been done in recent years when it comes to hiring and discipline.

“In conversations that I’ve had over the years with senior law enforcement officials, they’ll be the first to tell you, just like we need to root out a bad politician, we need to root out bad cops at the outset,” Iannicca says.

As previously reported by The Pointer, the new chief will also be dealing with a police service that has shown a reluctance to address its lack of diversity.

It’s something Iannicca says has been ignored.

“The fact of the matter is when I walk through the corridors of Peel Regional Police, it doesn’t look like the corridors of the Bramalea City Centre,” he says. “You’re going to have a fundamental disconnect when you don’t mimic the people that you serve.”

While the diversity audit commissioned by the previous incarnation of the police services board has yet to be made public – withheld despite a promised release date back in November 2018 – the new chief will be tasked with handling one of Peel police’s biggest hot-button issues.

“There’s some communities that don’t feel that they’ve been a part of it, and I think they have a very important point there. I think they’re absolutely correct,” Iannicca says.

In Brampton, 74 percent of the city’s residents are visible minorities. In contrast, of PRP’s uniformed officers, only 13 percent are visible minorities.

“We need to address this somehow, because we’re all in this together,” Iannicca says. “I think we need the public to understand that we’re trying to move along on that path, and more importantly we need them around the table – and their help as well.”

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