Northern municipalities question why changes need to be made to police boards

  Group pans suggestion of having police boards under DSB 

ONTARIO – The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) questions why any changes need to be made to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment boards like the Manitoulin Community Police Advisory Committee and made it clear they are not at all in favour of the Association of Municipalities (AMO) suggestion that these boards could be replaced by District Service Boards (DSB).
“Our original question, which still remains, is what is wrong with the current structure with the police boards? Northerners are not opposed to changes, but leave things the way they are. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” stated Danny Whalen, president of FONOM. 

Mr. Whalen pointed out the province has indicated they want changes to be made and that they believe there are too many police service boards in place. “I don’t think there is a problem; these boards are fully paid by municipalities and members on the boards don’t receive anything in return. The cost of running these boards is minimum.”

Mr. Whalen said in some police board association areas, where the province makes appointments to the boards, it has proven at times to be a lengthy process.  

And, “there was a suggestion by AMO that DSB why not have them make up the police boards,” said Mr. Whalen. “This opens up a whole list of questions and concerns. In the case of Cochrane, the first problem is that the unincorporated areas don’t pay towards DSBs and the larger municipalities do, and now they would be in line to pay the costs of police boards? That issue came up at our most recent meeting and was not well received.”

FONOM met on May 13  to discuss the issues and challenges facing their 110 members. Since the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the cancellation of FONOM’s annual conference, the executive and board have been meeting monthly to understand the changing landscape better. The board reviewed and discussed AMO’s policy paper on ‘OPP Detachment Boards: Building a Framework for Better Policing Governance.’

The FONOM release explains, “the paper notes that Northern Ontario is unique, but the FONOM board identified several issues with the DSB replacing the current detachment boards. Community policing is distinctive to each municipality, and the current DSBs would not be the best solution for overseeing the Northern OPP detachments. Several of those issues were: the discrepancy between the number of DSBs to the number of detachments; representation on some boards, with members of the municipalities with no OPP contracts; and the concern that this will start a conversation about the creation of upper tier or regional governments in the North. The board will investigate a better approach for the North.”

AMO recently approved a discussion paper on the establishment of new OPP detachment boards. The paper is designed to help municipal officials assess key issues, lead information conversations and lay the foundation for successful governance in the future.

“The paper recognizes the importance of municipal self-determination and cooperation in re-establishing OPP boards. The paper asserts guiding principles to inform that discussion. Of note, AMO recommends the provincial government relinquish its authority to make appointments to OPP detachment boards. AMO sees merit in municipally selected board members being composed of local elected officials, community representatives (i.e. not holding elected office) and a municipal staff member to support the policy drafting functions of a board.”

While the exact composition of each board will vary, AMO believes all municipalities should have the opportunity to select a representative on an OPP detachment board (as is the case with the Manitoulin CPAC). Municipalities in a detachment (or a portion of a detachment) should be provided every opportunity to develop and propose locally developed board composition ideas to the province.

Matthew Wilson of AMO told the Recorder late last week, “the government held seven round-table meetings around the province earlier in the year looking at police boards and it was found that a lot needs to be worked out before a final decision is made. We would like to emphasize a couple of key points from the municipalities’ perspective: the importance of municipal self-determination and cooperation rather than the province tell how the boards are going to look like-let municipalities work together and determine how these boards will be composed.” 

“Every municipality should be represented on a police board,” said Mr. Wilson. “The government aim is to have one board per detachment but with the knowledge we have in Ontario and the geography involved, there needs to be exceptions, such as in the Manitoulin Island area where there is a board that represents only the municipalities on the Island. I think Manitoulin can make the argument to the province that it is unique and should continue to have its policing board. For areas with well functioning boards like Manitoulin Island that ultimately should be the goal.”

“The paper also highlights the value of representatives on board, that are non-elected officials.” He pointed out Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan all have fully municipal appointed boards. 

On the DSB issue, “(AMO) is just suggesting the police boards come under the DSB, and this could be looked at on a case by case basis. It might work in some areas and not in others. It was just brought forward as an idea for everyone to consider and discuss. By no means is this a flat statement or recommendation. It is not carved in stone.”

“Manitoulin Island, where you have one community policing board for the Island, that is a great model in my view; it brings all communities together with one strong voice,” added Mr. Wilson.

EDITOR’S NOTE: See additional coverage in an upcoming edition of the Manitoulin West Recorder.