OTTAWA CITIZEN -Y SHAAMINI YOGARETNAM- The chief of police says a “glitch” in the system was responsible for a Somali-Canadian recruit mistakenly receiving a rejection letter before the city’s top cop decided to hire him after all.
On Tuesday, police Chief Charles Bordeleau defended his decision to hire the applicant, despite the objections of a background investigator, who resigned after learning of the decision.
Postmedia reported this week that civilian background investigator Christina Benson resigned from her job with the Ottawa Police Service on Aug. 4 after learning that a candidate she felt was “unsuitable” was being hired for what she alleged were “political reasons to appease the Somali community.”
The move to hire the man came the same day 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi was pronounced dead, one day after his arrest by police.
The now-new recruit had initially received a rejection letter from the force. But on July 26, he was offered a job. Bordeleau said Tuesday a rejection letter should not have been sent to the recruit in question, nor to a second candidate who also received one.
“The rejection letters to two of those candidates should not have gone out,” Bordeleau said. “They were sent prematurely, because I had not reviewed those files on my desk, at that meeting. So there was an error in the process, where that letter was sent … when the team knew I wanted to review those files.”
Bordeleau said it was a human error and that someone else mistakenly sent the rejection letters to the two candidates.
The chief of police also said Tuesday that all of the candidates who had been offered police jobs had “passed the rigorous selection process.”
Bordeleau said the police force must reflect the community and that while the recruit’s being Somali was a factor in his hiring, it was but one of many.
Some officers on the force, however, continue to express outrage at the hiring. After Postmedia asked Bordeleau about the recruit’s hiring and the investigator’s resignation, he sent all officers an email. Bordeleau told officers that he approved the hiring of 19 recruits in what was a previously scheduled meeting, and that his decision to hire the officers was in no way influenced by Abdi’s arrest.
“We knew that there would be all sorts of questions from media coming our way since the launch of the SIU investigation on July 24th,” he wrote to officers.
“I expect you will see in the media that I am receiving questions as to whether one of the 19 individuals who was offered a job on July 26th was made an offer because of the events of July 24th.”
“The answer to that question is no.”
Bordeleau did not answer Postmedia’s questions about whether there were red flags raised in the background check process about the recruit.
Yet in the email to officers, he said “two of the candidates that were made offers had items in their background checks that I was asked to review. I looked at the cases in their totality and established offers should be made to both individuals.”
Bordeleau said he was proud of the final recruit class and that they would make “excellent officers.”
“I ask you to support these new members,” Bordeleau wrote. “I support them and I support you.”
After the chief’s email, several officers replied either to the entire service or to him privately and questioned why the email was sent. Officers called on him to publicize why Postmedia was asking these questions and why the investigator would resign based on a hiring decision.
Officers have questioned whether an officer with such a background — including traffic convictions — will have credibility to testify in court. That’s something Bordeleau dismissed, saying it is not the same as serving officers being disciplined under the Police Services Act. Some also questioned whether they could trust someone with a history of not complying with police — an allegation presented in the investigator’s report — to back them up.
Benson’s “primary concern” in not recommending the force hire the recruit was “for the safety of front line officers and the members of the public,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
The force also announced Tuesday, by way of a general order effective last week, that five police officers — and a special constable — would be bolstering their diversity and race relations section as an “outreach liaison team.” The team, which includes some Somali and black police officers, will work to do proactive community engagement.
“We know that there are strong emotions out there,” Bordeleau said. “The trust between the police service and our community has been fractured, to a certain extent, and we want to work hard at rebuilding that.”
With files from Tyler Dawson