Police and Public Trust, a CBC News Atlantic investigative unit project, scrutinizes the largely off-limits police complaint and discipline systems across the region. Journalists are using access-to-information laws, and in some cases court challenges, to obtain discipline records and data.
If there was ever a time to speak publicly about what happened in the lead-up to Joe Boland’s exit as chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the former top cop says it was Friday morning, in front of a group of leaders in national police governance and oversight.
And he didn’t hold back.
“It was a concentrated effort by several to push me out the door because I was holding people accountable and that I wanted to open up the RNC and include the community into everything that we were doing,” Boland said.
Boland was a panellist at the Canadian Association of Police Governance’s annual conference at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s. Boland spoke alongside lawyer and advocate Lynn Moore, Justin Campbell of Indigenous coalition First Voice and St. John’s city councillor Maggie Burton.
It marked the first time Boland has spoken publicly since stepping down two years ago.
He said his relationship with the provincial government broke down and he faced increasing pressure from the union over holding police officers accountable.
“I wanted [RNC officers] to act in good faith. I wanted them to make sure that what they were doing what they believed was the right thing to do when it came from a good place,” Boland said.
“But I was also very clear that if you chose to abuse your position as a police officer, if you chose to prey on vulnerable people, if you chose to create a toxic environment within the organization, that I would also do all that I could to make sure that you didn’t stay in the RNC, that I got rid of you.”
Boland, a former president of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association, said he has been advocating for decades, to different governments, for an independent police board that would act with openness and transparency.
Each time, he said, he was met with resistance.
“It becomes very, very difficult when you deal with either politicians or senior bureaucrats that have their own agendas,” Boland said.
“And I think one of the biggest agendas is keeping the public in the dark. The people of the province are the ones who should set the direction for the police.”
In 2020, Boland was the centre of controversy when the RNCA turned against him. The union sent letters to constables, sergeants and staff sergeants, asking them to vote on whether they had confidence in Boland’s leadership.
I was going out the door and it started before that but it was not responding to emails, not filling vacancies.… I could not get vacancies filled. In effect, I could not run the RNC.– Joe Boland
The association, which represents 380 non-commissioned officers, said the vote was prompted by “ongoing concerns raised by association membership.” At the time, Boland called it a “transparent and fundamentally misguided attempt at intimidation and coercion.”
Following the provincial election in March 2021, Boland said it was clear the provincial government was “getting rid” of him.
“I was going out the door, and it started before that, but it was not responding to emails, not filling vacancies,” he said.
“I could not get vacancies filled. In effect, I could not run the RNC.”
WATCH | Former RNC chief, lawyer and advocate speak on police governance:
The former chief of the RNC took part in a panel discussion Friday morning at the annual Canadian Association of Police Governance. Ariana Kelland reports.
‘Secret trials should not exist in a democracy’
Lynn Moore, who represents 11 women who are suing the provincial government over alleged sexual assaults by on-duty RNC officers, says the police complaints process is overly complex and serves neither the public nor police.
“We are in a desperate state of a lack of accountability in this province and we desperately need independent oversight and accountability,” Moore said.
In terms of the RNC’s complaints process, non-criminal cases involving public complaints about a police officer begin with an investigation by other RNC officers, who then report to the chief of police. The chief can either dismiss and settle the complaint or internally charge an officer. A hearing is then held in which discipline will be imposed, ranging from training to dismissal.
The process becomes public only if and when the complainant or officer appeals the decision by the chief and the Public Complaints Commission disagrees with the chief’s decision. That rarely happens.
“Police officers have a great deal of authority, responsibility and power,” Moore said.
“And with that power comes a necessary accounting to the public. Secret trials should not exist in a democracy.”
Justin Campbell of First Voice said a police oversight board is the very minimum that’s needed to start decolonizing policing in the province.
First Voice is an urban Indigenous collective that provided the Department of Justice with a report on police oversight in Newfoundland and Labrador last October. The report made 26 recommendations to the provincial government.
However, nearly a year later, Campbell said the province “has yet to take a position on how to deal with the significant problems of policing that are documented” in the report.
“We have a provincial government right now that likes to talk about truth and reconciliation but that doesn’t respond to reports that are developed by Indigenous peoples to address exactly what that would look like,” said Campbell.
“Our report is essentially a response to, what does truth and reconciliation look like when it comes to the context of policing? It requires action and it needs to happen now.”
Campbell said the urban Indigenous community hopes relations with police will be strengthened and repaired, but action is required.
“I can’t figure out what the barrier is to making progress on this. If it serves politicians’ interests to be removed from the equation, if it makes policing more effective, who is standing in the way here? How do we push change forward?” he said.
Hogan not present at conference
Justice Minister John Hogan was absent from the conference.
In a statement, Hogan said he was unable to attend but noted his department had representatives there and he was “happy to have provided a video message.”
Hogan said officials continue to consult with organizations and stakeholders.
“The policing structure in our province is unique,” Hogan said in an emailed statement provided by the department.
“As a result, significant work is needed to determine what a new police oversight model would look like in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
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