Robert Swaita says ‘I did nothing wrong’ after police board resignation amid controversy

He and two other provincial appointees resigned weeks after city council appointees to the board either quit or were replaced.

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A day after he resigned from the Ottawa Police Services Board, Robert Swaita said he did nothing wrong, despite the controversy that suddenly surrounded him and his responsibilities on the oversight body.


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“I want to be crystal clear — I did nothing wrong, nor has it been alleged in the article that I did anything inappropriate,” Swaita said in a written statement on Thursday, a day after Queen’s Park Briefing reported that he attended the downtown Ottawa trucker protest.

“I attended the protest on two occasions when the convoy first arrived in Ottawa. I shared this, and my frustrations, in conversations with the Chair and Vice Chair of the (police board) at the time — well before the protest was declared illegal. As a private citizen of Ottawa and a member of the (police board), I wanted to better understand the growing frustration that was being felt by many Canadians to better undertake my duties as an (police board) member and a concerned citizen.


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“I heard many tragic stories of suicide, loneliness, and job loss. I also went on a police ride-along to better gauge the challenges faced by our brave police officers with regards to the protest. I unequivocally condemn any racist or destructive behaviour. I never attended the protest after it was declared illegal, and I never made donations.”

Swaita, a restaurant owner who was appointed to the police services board in March 2020, said he was never privy to police operational information and he never shared confidential police board information with the public.

Coun. Diane Deans was chair of the police board until Feb. 16, when council removed her from that position.

On Wednesday, Deans said she wasn’t aware of Swaita’s alleged participation in the protest and that “he had a duty and an obligation to the board to disclose that he was supporting that protest.”


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On Thursday, Deans reasserted that Swaita never told her he attended the protest. Deans said she heard police board members participated in ride-alongs, but, according to her, Swaita never told her he was at the demonstration.

The police board has completely flipped in the wake of the occupation, with Swaita and fellow provincial appointees Bev Johnson and Daljit Nirman resigning weeks after council appointees to the board either quit or were replaced. The province will announce three new appointees to the board in the coming days.

If the police board wants to meet and do business, there must be a minimum of four members at the meeting.

As of Thursday, there were only three people on the seven-member police board.


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Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, the new chair of the police board, said there wasn’t one priority for the board, but hiring a permanent police chief and working through multiple post-occupation inquiries were among the top issues.

“As a newly appointed board chair, I’m looking forward to the new colleagues appointed from the province to work together. We have a lot of work ahead of us,” El-Chantiry said.

Asked if his goal is to hire a police chief before the end of the council term at the end of 2022, El-Chantiry said, “Honestly, my goal right now is just to have a full board.”


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Steve Bell, a deputy chief, was named acting police chief after Peter Sloly resigned during the trucker demonstration.

This week, El-Chantiry’s priority was preparing for a special board meeting on Friday to hear from Swaita. With the provincial appointees resigning and the special meeting cancelled, El-Chantiry’s priority shifted to repopulating the board.

At an event in Toronto on Thursday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the City of Ottawa had decided to “take a new direction,” which led her to accept the resignations of the three provincial appointees to the police board.

Council still needs to appoint a member to the police board, but that decision has been delayed until March 23. The city announced on Thursday that it cancelled next week’s council meeting.


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The next regular police board meeting is scheduled for March 28.

Council could be challenged to appoint another councillor with police governance experience.

It looked unlikely on Thursday that Mayor Jim Watson would take a seat on the police board. His spokesperson said the mayor would prefer a member of council take on that role.

Coun. Jeff Leiper and Suzanne Valiquet, who has experience from a past stint on the board, are the other two members recently appointed by council. It’s Leiper’s first time on the police board.

Fred Kaustinen, a former executive director of the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB), said he empathized with Ottawa residents as they go through the fallout of the occupation.


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Kaustinen, a governance consultant and the chief governance officer for police in Halton Region, talked about the Ottawa situation Thursday after participating in a summit by the OAPSB titled “Police Governance in Crisis.”

There’s a lot to learn as new members of a police board and the most important part is understanding if police actions are meeting the community’s needs, values and expectations, Kaustinen said.

Kaustinen said there was no mandatory requirement in Ontario for police board members to receive training, something he called a “travesty.”

He acknowledged the imminent challenges that the Ottawa police board was facing.

“They’ve got to build the boat while they’re sailing it,” Kaustinen said, “and they have a gale going on.”

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