Ottawa's new police chief starts with focus on hiring, recruiting

Eric Stubbs, the new chief of the Ottawa Police Service, poses for a photo during his first news conference as leader of the local police force on Nov. 17, 2022.  (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Eric Stubbs, the new chief of the Ottawa Police Service, poses for a photo during his first news conference as leader of the local police force on Nov. 17, 2022. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's new police chief began his first day on the job by welcoming nine experienced officers into the force on Thursday morning.

"With me, that's 10," Eric Stubbs said during his first news conference as police chief.

Stubbs, a 30-year veteran of the RCMP, cited staffing and vacancy rates among the challenges he faces as he takes the reins.

"Everybody is struggling to fill seats," Stubbs said of industries like policing, nursing and teaching.

Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson recently told the ongoing Emergencies Act inquiry that staffing challenges were the force's "Achilles heel" during last winter's Freedom Convoy protests.

Stubbs declined to comment on inquiry testimony describing internal tensions within the Ottawa Police Service during the convoy. He did say working as a team is very important and that he's already spoken with most of the force's senior command.

"I think we're going to work really well together," he said during a follow-up interview Thursday with the CBC's Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco. "Any success I've had in my career that's been attributed to me generally should be attributed to the team that works with me."

Former police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned in February amid fierce criticism of the force's handling of the protests, oversaw an effort to rethink the way Ottawa officers respond to calls involving mental health

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Stubbs said police forces across the country continue to respond to a high number of calls involving mental health "because, some of them, we just have to."

He did acknowledge in the news conference there could be a "shift" in responsibility for mental health calls to professionals who are "more capable in the community."

Despite not being experts, officers successfully de-escalate hundreds of calls without incident, he added.

"You just don't hear about it."

Lived in Ottawa previously

Stubbs said he's not a complete newbie to Ottawa as he recently lived here for three years.

According to the biography released by the Ottawa Police Services Board, Stubbs worked at the national RCMP headquarters from 2014 to 2017.

"I know where the Costco is," he quipped.

Still, Stubbs said he faces a steep learning curve as he continues to meet with community groups.

"The theme I've seen with the people I've met externally is they're very welcoming ... they want to work with the police, even some that have perspectives that are maybe contrary to ours."

Stubbs also responded Thursday to remarks that he brings baggage from his time with the B.C. RCMP, when he oversaw the police response to a number of resource-based protests, including the blockades that took place on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in opposition to a pipeline project.

One western First Nations leader, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of Indian B.C. Chiefs, has been particularly critical of Stubbs, calling his approach to community engagement during situations like the Wet'suwet'en blockades "arrogant."

Stubbs said the blockades were just one issue among many he faced.

"I bring a lot more baggage into the room of working very successfully with the Indigenous communities throughout my career," he said.