Durham police chief Paul Martin is asking an Ontario court to remove an administrator overseeing the embattled force while its top officials are being investigated for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
The appointment of an administrator by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a police watchdog agency, was done with complete disregard for procedural fairness and subverted the chief’s authority, according to court submissions made by the chief’s legal team.
Before a panel of three judges in Toronto on Friday, lawyer Sean Dewart said the police watchdog made no meaningful inquiry into the “reckless” allegations against the chief before making the order, and never gave Durham Regional Police Service’s senior command a chance to respond.
“What was done here was drive-by justice,” Dewart told the court.
“(Chief Martin) has been smeared and has no opportunity to address it,” Dewart said. “The procedure that has been adopted here thwarts his ability” to clear his name.
Jeremy Glick, a lawyer representing the commission, told the court that the watchdog’s handling of the matter was appropriate in order to protect the integrity of its ongoing investigation.
In late May, the commission opened an investigation into Durham police after receiving “credible information” that the force’s top brass, including the chief “might have covered up, attempted to cover up, allowed, tolerated, encouraged or participated in the alleged misconduct or criminal conduct.”
Durham police is Canada’s 10th-largest municipal force, which patrols the region east of Toronto, including the cities of Oshawa and Pickering.
As first revealed by the Star, several veteran officers had filed complaints to the province accusing Martin and other top officials — Deputy Chief Dean Bertrim, former deputy chief Uday Jaswal and chief administrative officer Stan MacLellan — of serious misconduct.
The complaints include allegations that senior command threatened two officers with trumped-up accusations of misconduct in attempts to intimidate or dig up dirt on those who had fallen out of favour with the management, and an allegation of lying under oath to cover for the chief.
Dewart has called the allegations against police officials baseless and defamatory, lobbed by disgruntled employees with axes to grind.
At the request of Ontario’s Solicitor General, the commission began to review the complaints in January 2019 before determining that a full-blown investigation was necessary.
Worried that Durham’s roughly 900 officers and 300 civilian employees would not openly participate in the investigation out of fear of reprisal by senior command, the commission appointed Mike Federico, a retired deputy chief with Toronto police, as administrator.
“The commission’s preliminary review has revealed a deep sense of mistrust in the judgment, integrity and capacity of the Service’s leadership and the Board’s oversight abilities,” reads the commission’s May 23 order installing the administrator.
“In light of the credible allegations that certain members of the senior administration have improperly interfered in previous investigations, it is also in the public interest to mitigate against any potential interference in the commission’s investigation so that the public can be assured that a full accounting will be achieved.”
As administrator, Federico’s responsibilities include approving promotions and overseeing all internal discipline.
In an affidavit filed as part of his court challenge, Chief Martin alleged Federico’s appointment is “interfering with the proper operation of the police service,” adding that it has gummed up the handling of disciplinary proceedings and promotions.
“It is undermining my role, harming my reputation and preventing me from performing the essential duties of a chief of police,” Martin said.
The Durham Regional Police Services Board also asked the court to quash the order appointing the administrator.
The commission’s order requires Durham police to foot the bill for the administrator, who receives $900 per half-day or $1,800 per full day with a maximum possible remuneration of $115,000.
The commission’s order stated that “the crisis of confidence” within Durham police “constitutes an emergency” and the appointment of an administrator “is necessary in the public interest.”
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Durham police has said many of the allegations against its senior members have already been investigated by independent police services or workplace harassment investigators and determined to be unfounded.
“There was no evidence before the commission on which it could conclude acting rationally that there is an emergency justifying” the order installing an administrator, Dewart said in written court submissions.
The commission’s order says the agency does not yet have enough information to make any formal findings.
The judges will release their decision at a later date.