At the end of the September Hamilton Police Services Board meeting , member Madeline Levy asked for an in camera session to consider a letter of complaint written by the Hamilton International Village BIA regarding an alleged incident of threatening by board member Terry Whitehead in a phone conversation with Susie Braithwaite, the Executive Director of the BIA. The issue was a June letter Braithwaite had written to the Police Services at the instruction of her executive urging the board to “do what they could to retain de Caire as Chief;” since a series of policing programs the Chief had introduced to the BIA were seen as very effective by BIA members. The letter was written in the midst of a determined public campaign by prominent Hamiltonians Charles Juravinski, Ron Foxcroft and others to have the board reconsider accepting Police Chief Glenn DeCaire’s resignation which had been tendered in September of 2013.The resignation was accepted on a narrow 4-3 vote that demonstrated the rift that existed on the Board between city appointees and provincial appointees. The intervention by community leaders had attracted some controversy in the media over whether the rich and powerful enjoyed special status in lobbying an organization like the Police Services Board. The letter from the BIA alleged that Whitehead had told Braithwaite that she had “no place” in her intervention, that the resignation was a bigger issue than she understood. Then, according to the BIA complaint, Whitehead told Braithwaite “maybe we should write a letter to the BIA boards about who they should hire and fire as their executive directors.” Reached by the Bay Observer Whitehead stuck to his guns that the intervention by the BIA was inappropriate. .” Whitehead suggested the BIA should have registered as lobbyists. Asked if a letter from a community business organization could really be called lobbying, he said the BIA should have first lobbied the Chief to request reconsideration of his resignation. “If you want to lobby, lobby the chief. We can’t look like we are begging the chief.” (The Chief did formally request reconsideration of his resignation the day the BIA letter of complaint was drafted). He insisted the comment about hiring and firing BIA employees was only meant as an example to show the inappropriateness of the BIA appeal to the Police Board. The police Board has decided not to pursue the matter owing to the differing accounts of the incident. They advised the BIA that they could take the matter up with the Integrity Commissioner or the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
Said BIA Chair Herb Wodehouse, “The Police Services is critically important to our members because this is an area where much work is being done with the Police Action Team and the Chief directly.” With regard to the conversation between Whitehead and Braithwaite he said, “Our BIA will not tolerate any intimidating behaviour.”
As a sidebar, the incident came at the same time as Hamilton Council was considering a lobbyist registry, since agreed to for introduction next year. What is clear is that there is a lack of consensus, between politicians, public and the media on what constitutes lobbying, and whether a lobbyist registry will inhibit community groups and individuals from freely speaking out on matters of public concern.