The last public meeting for Ontario’s first inspector general of policing was with Strathroy-Caradoc’s police board Dec. 21.
Inspector General Devon Clunis retired from the Ontario Public Service on December 31.
Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson Brent Ross told The Middlesex Banner in an email that Deputy Inspector General Ken Weatherill has assumed the role of Inspector General on an interim basis.
“Ken has served as the Deputy Inspector General, and Director, Inspections, Investigation, Audit and Compliance Management since the inception of Inspectorate of Policing,” wrote Ross.
That inception was in large part due to the work of Clunis, who was hired in early October 2020 to create the inspectorate to develop regulations and oversight of policing in Ontario. Clunis was chief of the Winnipeg Police Service from 2012-2016 before retiring after 29 years with the Service for what he described as wanting to spend more time with his family.
Clunis told the Strathroy police board he saw a lot of improvement in policing in Winnipeg and Canada as a whole since what he considered was a dysfunctional time in the 1980s. Part of that was representation.
“At a time when I did not see black police officers, I decided I’m going to become a police officer. I’m going to be a bridge builder, and that’s why I joined the Winnipeg Police Service in 1987,” said Clunis.
“I simply used my role not just to be a law enforcement officer – that’s part of what we do, but I thought the power in what we do is building those relationships … and helping to create a healthy society for all of us,” he added.
Clunis was motivated to help form the inspectorate after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in the United States.
“It is going to be the shining light for the world and say this is how we do it effectively,” said Clunis.
New interim inspector general Weatherhill was on the police board meeting held over Zoom, along with several other members of the inspectorate. Clunis made a point of acknowledging this when he mentioned his leaving, saying it takes a team and all of Ontario policing to make the positive change he saw continue to happen.
“It’s much bigger than one individual or one province or one country, it’s what we collectively can do for the entire globe by leading the future of policing and community safety,” said Clunis.
Weatherhill, who said he has 35 years of policing experience in Ontario, was the main speaker at the Strathroy meeting. He spoke of differing expectations among communities of different sizes, and between communities and police services.
“And that disconnect occurs more often than not because the relationships that are so important are not embedded throughout the culture of the community or into the culture of the service. They rest with individuals or they rest with an office, and the minute an individual leaves or the minute someone moves out of an office, then there is a significant loss that is there. And that loss is felt because you have to start on a whole new relationship journey in building that relationship of trust, building that relationship of integrity so that when you talk and you listen and you communicate, everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what each other’s expected deliverables are,” said Weatherhill.
The resignation of Clunis is a test of whether the inspectorate has created a culture that no longer relies on an individual.
“It takes an entire community in order to deliver public safety,” pointed out Weatherhill.
He pointed to three inequities that need tackling to deliver that safety: geography, funding, and small communities. He explained how different life is for smaller forces.
“And on any given day the chief or deputy in small services are out doing 911 calls for service. That would not happen in a large community. You don’t have the ability in a small service to pick up the phone and call in a divisional commander and say ‘I need half a dozen members to support this particular initiative.’ You’re scratching your head figuring who can I deploy, what is my priority, how do I balance that delivery in order to meet the needs of the community on a regular basis,” said Weatherhill.
Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Joanne Vanderheyden took her opportunity to thank Clunis for his vision of bridging communities.
“It’s not building a bridge over people, it’s over a divide so we can connect and we can make that bridge shorter and shorter and shorter until we don’t even need the bridge anymore because we’re all together,” said Vanderheyden.
Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner