Tense call between Ottawa mayor, police board chair played at Emergencies Act inquiry

As the ‘Freedom Convoy’ continued to occupy downtown Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service was in turmoil without a chief, the mayor and former chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board held a 10-minute discussion on the state of the police service.

The Public Order Emergency Commission heard the phone call between Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Diane Deans from Feb. 15, one day after Peter Sloly resigned as chief and one day before council would vote to remove Deans from the board.

“Is there a vote of non-confidence in me or the board coming to council?” Deans asks the mayor in the tense phone call.

“I haven’t seen any motions,” Watson responded.

A short time later, Deans asks Watson, “Would you support a vote of non-confidence in me?”

“I haven’t decided that yet,” Watson said.

Deans recorded the phone call, which included Watson’s chief of staff Serge Arpin and a member of Deans’s office staff.

During the conversation, Deans provided an update on Sloly’s resignation as Chief of the Ottawa Police Service two weeks into the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation and the next steps the Ottawa Police Services Board would take for an interim chief.

“So basically, I’m going to sign a contract with a new chief today and I believe he will start on Monday,” Deans said.

“You’re bringing in a new chief today? Watson asked.

“Monday. He’s going to start on Monday,” Deans said.

“Who is this and how did you find him or her?” Watson inquired.

“His name is Matt Torigian and he’s a former chief of Waterloo,” Deans said, explaining he was a Deputy Minister with the Ontario government.

“He is extremely well respected in the police world and the solicitor general’s office helped us, gave us a short list. He’s going to bring a team with him, basically of former chiefs with a lot of depth of knowledge that are going to come into assist him to bring this thing to an end.”

Deans explained it would be a short-term contract, so the new Ottawa Police Services Board could choose the new chief after the 2022 municipal election.

“This is obviously a surprise,” Watson said. “What happens to Steve (Bell)?”

“Steve will be the deputy chief. The way I see it is that this is probably going to save Steve’s opportunity to become the next chief, because you know the poison environment that we have right now anybody we’re going to be put in there won’t last very long and Steve is going to get blamed for this. He will be deputy chief and will continue that way, and have the opportunity to become the next chief.”

Watson tells Deans the “problem” he has with the hiring of an interim chief is the process during the ‘Freedom Convoy.’

Deans says she had a conversation with Bell after he was introduced as the acting chief on Feb. 14 that the Ottawa Police Services Board was looking to bring in an interim chief with experience.

“I said to him, ‘I recognize if we were to put you in there right now, like you own this,'” Deans said.

“I phoned him last week, by the way Jim, and I asked him what he would do differently if he was the chief right now and he said nothing, which didn’t instill a lot of confidence.

“I think in the long term he will have a lot better chance of being able to be the chief of police in Ottawa if he doesn’t own this right now.”

Deans tells the mayor the Ottawa Police Services Board approved the hiring of Torigian the day before, adding “this is the right thing to do.”

During the phone call, Watson said the hiring of an interim chief comes as a “big surprise”, and suggested it would be “very destabilizing” to the organization to bring in someone from the outside during the occupation.

Deans says there’s a “lot of internal angst” in the Ottawa Police Service at the time of the occupation, including “infighting.”

Watson tells Deans it is her call to bring in an interim chief, adding, “I won’t support that and I think it will destabilize the organization.”

“I thought you should know you are the mayor. So, if you’re telling me not to do it, then I will not do it. I’ll go have another board meeting and tell them we’re going to have to change again.”

Deans then asks if there will be a vote of non-confidence in her or the board coming to the Council meeting on Feb. 16.

“I haven’t seen any motions,” Watson said, adding he was going to speak with some councillors ahead of a special Council meeting on Feb. 16.

“If I get any sense of what’s going on I’ll try to give you a heads up.”

Council voted on Feb. 16 to remove Deans from the Ottawa Police Services Board after she decided to hire Torrigian in a sole-sourced deal without consulting councillors of the mayor. On Feb. 17, Torrigan withdrew from the job.

“CUT ME A CHEQUE”

Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said ‘Cut me a cheque and I’ll be out of here,’ in the week before his high-profile resignation at the height of the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” councillor Diane Deans told the public inquiry examining the use of the Emergencies Act on Wednesday.

Deans, who was ousted from her role as chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, also revealed she has a recording of her speaking with Mayor Jim Watson during that time. The recording was only submitted to the Public Order Emergency Commission Wednesday and there will have to be a ruling before it’s played in public.

During her testimony, Deans shared new details about the time leading up to the convoy, the rising frustration as it dragged on for weeks and feeling left in the dark about a plan to get trucks out of the core.

“I think it was growing as we went along that we were realizing that we weren’t getting information and I have to say through this commission I’ve realized there was a lot more information the board was not privy to that the city was. It’s very frustrating,” Deans said.

Deans also testified about infighting at the Ottawa Police Service.

“There was obviously this other problem we had that inside Ottawa police there’s a bit of an insurrection going on and there seems to be an intent to use this crisis to undermine the chief further.”

Deans said Sloly downplayed the demonstration’s potential impact ahead of its arrival in late January.

“The more I was watching this the more concerned I was getting,” Deans said. “He [Sloly] said to me ‘what are you so worried about?’ and I told  him…the number of trucks, the size of those trucks, the amount of money that they have and he said that he would be surprised if they were still here on Monday.”

Under cross-examination by one of Sloly’s lawyers, Rebecca Jones, Deans said his honeymoon was “short-lived.”

Jones suggested that Sloly wasn’t acting alone in his role of chief—that he had a command team including Deputy Chiefs Trish Ferguson and Steve Bell who had access to an OPP situational awareness bulletin issued days before the convoy’s arrival indicating protestors were going to cause disruptions and intended to remain on Parliament Hill until all government mandates were lifted with no departure date.

Deans’ cross-examination continues Wednesday afternoon.

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