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The West Nipissing Police Services Board (WNPSB) is taking the Municipality of West Nipissing to court over the OPP costing, hoping to have council’s decision in favour of the OPP annulled. The Board filed its Application for Judicial Review with the Divisional Court in Sudbury on April 30 and the matter came up at the May 1 council meeting, where several council members reacted with outrage.
Additionally, councilor Léo Malette resigned from his position on the WNPSB. He told council that the PSB chair, Barry Bertrand, told him he was in conflict of interest. Malette said didn’t feel there was any conflict of interest, as neither he nor anyone in his family had pecuniary interest in the outcome of the costing, but he was stepping away regardless.
The PSB has made no secret of its opposition to the December 5, 2017 council vote in favour of the OPP, saying the decision was rushed and there was insufficient consultation. In its statement of claim, the Board cites council as “acting in bad faith,” and having “improper and/or ulterior motives” in decision making, and failing to act in the public interest. The claim relies on affidavits by Board Chair Barry Bertrand and WN Police Chief Chuck Seguin, as well as historical records relating to the process, to back up its charges.
In a release issued May 2, Bertrand outlined his reasoning. “The Board has an obligation to the community to have Council’s conduct reviewed by the Court. Council decided to rush the OPP costing process without consulting the Board and the Chief of Police and without following the process recommended by both the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and the OPP,” he stated.
WN municipal CAO Jay Barbeau presented the claim to council April 1. “Who’s going to pay for this?” Coun. Denise Brisson demanded. The response was that the West Nipissing taxpayer would end up paying for both sides. Barbeau revealed that the WNPSB had already overspent their annual ‘legal fees’ budget by $1,000, having spent $11,000 in the first fourth months of the new calendar year. Brisson responded, “The PSB gets it funding from the municipality …so we’re suing ourselves?” Coun. Guilles Tessier questioned the timing of the lawsuit, just as the town prepares to transition to the OPP and just months away from a municipal election. “Why would they wait until the last second… if not for politically railroading the process?”
Barbeau said he would be speaking to legal counsel, but the strategy employed would not be shared publicly. He said the statements made by the WNPSB claim had to be supported with evidence, and they have 30 days to submit their evidence. The municipality has 30 days to respond.
“The public and council should be aware this risks a delay, potentially significantly… a court date could be set for fall,” he warned, making it clear the October timeline to have the OPP take over would likely be unfeasible now.
Coun. Rolly Larabie was disgusted. “With this move that the board has taken – the wrench they threw in the wheel – the taxpayers are going to pay, the taxpayers are going to be losing.” Coun. Guy Fortier cited the Police Service Act, saying, “The rules and responsibilities of the board are to manage policing within the community as chosen by municipal council… They don’t, as I recall, they can’t interfere in council’s right to choose their policing.”
Barbeau cited a 2008 case in Kenora where the local PSB took a similar action against the elected council. The justice in that case found “A police services board only comes into existence after council has decided what method of policing to select. A change in the method of delivery of police services may mean a change in the powers and responsibilities of a board depending upon the choice made. It would not be logical for the legislature to intend to provide a veto power to a police services board under these
circumstances - a veto power that could be used by a board to preserve the status quo including its authority, composition and responsibilities in the face of a decision to change made by council.” The Kenora board’s action was dismissed.
In a follow up interview with Barbeau, he reiterated that any actions would not be discussed publicly. He also confirmed that costs for any action would have to be assumed by taxpayers. He said the adversarial position taken by the WNPSB could delay the process, especially if they take the full 30 days to submit their documents, but that the town was ready to respond very quickly “because we are of interest to have these matters resolved so we can move forward as per the elected representatives’ wishes to provide policing services. …We shall be applying and providing the brief … to the OCPC … and they will do what they have to do… whether to wait is still to be determined. …We’re working with legal counsel to determine the most suitable course of action. …Obviously we’re dealing with an adversarial police services board.”