Calgary mayor says province's police commission appointments 'not in the interest of citizens'

Mayor Jyoti Gondek says council has created an untenable situation that may require provincial intervention. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Mayor Jyoti Gondek says council has created an untenable situation that may require provincial intervention. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says she's unhappy with the process the public safety minister followed to appoint three new members to the Calgary Police Commission without engaging council members or the commission beforehand.

Gondek and half of city council voted against directing administrators to draft a routine bylaw update that would align the Calgary Police Commission Bylaw with updated provincial laws under the Police Amendment Act.

She said it's a message.

"We have asked administration to not make changes to the bylaw that provincial legislation now requires them to make," Gondek said. "We've created an untenable situation. So now the minister will have to intervene and say to us, 'you must do this.' That's fine, but I'm not doing it on my own."

The Police Amendment Act, also known as Bill 6, was passed by the government last December. On March 29, the province proclaimed the section of the new Alberta Police Act that allows for provincial appointees on police commissions — permitting three provincial appointees to a 12-member police commission.

The act also allows for a transitional period, where the commission may have 15 members until the current commissioners' terms expire. In this case, that will happen at the end of October when six of the 12 commissioners' terms are up.

Previously, council appointed 10 members of the community and two city councillors to the commission. Going forward, the minister may appoint three members, leaving the city nine appointments in total.

In a presentation to council on Tuesday, commission executive director Heather Spicer said the commission was informed that three new members had been appointed through ministerial order on April 24. She said the commission was notified on May 1.

'I'm not too impressed'

"The police commission, the actual oversight body, was not given the courtesy of a heads-up that we're making appointments," said Gondek. "They were, in fact, not even told about the appointments for a full week, and although they are very calm about this, I, on their behalf, I'm not too impressed."

Gondek outlined concerns about the oversight and process behind these appointments.

"We don't know who they are, we don't know their skill sets, we don't know who chose them," Gondek said. "This is political appointments on a citizen oversight committee. It is not in the interest of the citizens and is not in the interest of the service."

Coun. Courtney Walcott, who has already been vocal about changes to the Police Act, called this chain of events political overreach.

"We can't … supersede the provincial Police Act changes," said Walcott, "We can't."

"They were democratically elected. They put it through. I agree, I understand. But what I can say is that … there is no shame and there is no risk either to us simply by saying that we don't agree with what is happening with regards to the Police Act because it will impact us so deeply."

In debate, there were some council members around the horseshoe ready to support the bylaw change.

Coun. Dan McLean said the province has been cracking down on crime and social disorder, which he supports.

Coun. Andre Chabot said having provincial oversight could be a benefit, pointing out these new appointees might learn about funding needs.

"I don't necessarily see it as a bad thing," Chabot said. "I think this way, they'll fully understand our needs from a financial perspective and why we, why we require some of that additional fine revenue."

Vote won't affect new commissioners' ability to serve

Updating the bylaw is important whether you agree with the Police Act changes or not, said Coun. Sonya Sharp said. She voted for the motion but said it was not an endorsement of the new rules.

The motion to direct administration to draft amendments to the Police Commission Bylaw was defeated with seven members of council voting for the motion and eight against it.

Those three appointees are now undergoing regular screening and onboarding, including a criminal record check. Once that's complete, Spicer said, they will be announced publicly and ready to begin their new roles.

Council's vote will not affect the new appointees' ability to join the commission. The provincial legislation is clear that the minister can appoint new members to police commissions.

The province has not responded to a request for comment from the Ministry of Public Safety, citing limited media response during the election period.