Ontario to review rule guaranteeing suspended police officers full pay

Daily Brew
Peel police officer facing child pornography charges released on bail

Craig Wattier, a 30-year veteran of Peel Regional Police and a supervisor in the Technological Crime Unit, was charged this week with fraud and child pornography. The officer has been suspended but he will continue to draw a paycheque as required under current provincial legislation, Peel police chief Jennifer Evans said in a statement.

Just how long Wattier will remain on suspension — and how many months of salary he’ll accumulate while he does so — remain unknown. The news has brought the controversial issue of officers suspended with pay once again to the fore.

Several high-profile cases of cops suspended for serious offences who then continued to receive their salary and benefits for months – and sometimes years – have angered the public and police chiefs alike.

In 2009, David Doel, a high-ranking officer with the Hamilton Police Service, was suspended and soon after charged with having sex on duty, keeping pornography on his work computer, using police cameras to spy for personal reasons and using the national criminal database for personal reasons. In total, he faced 14 charges under the Police Services Act.

In the four years it took for his case to be resolved — which only ended with Doel retiring — he racked up more than $550,000 in salary and benefits.

In 2011, Craig Markham, a former Waterloo Regional Police officer, was suspended with pay for a total of three years after he was charged criminally with breach of trust. He was also charged under the Police Services Act for breach of confidence, insubordination and discreditable conduct for passing on confidential police information to a civilian.

He sent an email to the police service’s solicitor in March, thanking police for his salary while he played golf, travelled and trained to become a firefighter.

“I am very thankful and fortunate to have received such as a nice gift from WRPS (Waterloo Regional Police Service) over the last three years. You have opened up others doors for me and have paid me to sit back and watch. What a dream come true,” Markham wrote.

Currently, Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not give police chiefs the discretion to suspend an officer without pay. Even officers who are convicted of an offence in Ontario are eligible for pay if the conviction is under appeal. The only situation in which an officer is not paid while suspended is if they are convicted and imprisoned.

The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services announced last week that it is planning a review of the province’s Police Services Act, an announcement well-received by Hamilton police chief Glenn De Caire.

In April 2014, Glenn De Caire spearheaded a proposal put forward by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police asking the government to end the controversial law requiring that officers be paid while suspended from duty.

“The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has been working on this issue for almost a decade,” De Caire says. “We asked the government to provide chiefs with the authority to suspend without pay in circumstances where officers are charged with criminal offences, are held in custody, or in serious Police Services Act matters where we would look for the dismissal of the officer.”

“From the Hamilton perspective, we are very encouraged that the ministry is intent on opening the Act to address many issues. Suspension without pay is but one of them.”

At present, De Caire says he believes there to be 12 Hamilton police officers currently on suspension, costing the police force about $1.2 million a year.

All police forces in the province are governed by the Police Services Act, which has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 1990. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ plan to overhaul the act will hold consultations and call for public feedback in the fall.

No one from the ministry, the Police Association of Ontario or the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards was immediately available for comment.