‘Ottawa’ Updated: Ottawa Police Chief asks OPP to Investigate Senior Officers for alleged Evidence Manipulation
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has called for the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate senior police employees after a lawyer alleged fraud and evidence manipulation in an SIU investigation, the Citizen has learned.
On Monday, Ottawa lawyer Michael Edelson sent letters to Bordeleau and two Ontario cabinet ministers requesting the OPP investigate the actions of two senior Ottawa police officers and a lawyer in the force’s legal department, some of whom work directly for the chief of police.
Those letters detail the disclosure received by Edelson in his capacity as lawyer to then-acting Staff Sgt. Marty Rukavina, who was previously charged by the Special Investigations Unit — along with two other constables — after a tactical training explosion in Kanata that injured two officers and three paramedics in the summer of 2014.
The charges against Rukavina and the other officers were ultimately stayed, but disclosure of evidence provided to Edelson and two other lawyers revealed unexpected information.
The disclosure allegedly showed that evidence in the case was changed by the force’s legal counsel and that some senior officers allegedly gave false statements in the investigation.
The evidence at issue pertained to the use of an explosive device during the training incident that was filled with windshield washer fluid rather than water.
The disclosure showed that evidence – namely a statement by an inspector saying that windshield washer fluid was used in similar training exercises before the explosion – was allegedly changed by the force’s legal counsel to expressly state that the fluid was never used by the force, putting it at odds with the sworn evidence of other officers.
The alleged evidence manipulation could have mitigated the force’s civil and labour liability, suggesting instead that rogue officers on the day of the explosion weren’t following force policy or previous practices. But while a criminal investigation was underway, it could have also made sacrificial lambs of rank-and-file tactical officers.
When reached just before noon on Monday, Bordeleau said he had not received “any such letter.” But around 4 p.m. he sent an email to all officers before sending the Citizen a similar statement confirming receipt of the letter and calling for the OPP probe.
“In that letter and attached documents, Mr. Edelson makes a number of allegations about the conduct of members of the Ottawa Police Service, both named and unnamed,” Bordeleau said.
“Some of the allegations in the letter were already known to the OPS and I initiated Chief’s Complaints after the staying by the Crown of the SIU criminal charges. Those Chief’s Complaints have been under active investigation,” he said.
Those complaints, however, are believed by sources to refer to investigating the source of a leaked letter to the CBC purporting to be written by the constables of the unit, and to investigating the three tactical officers for any non-criminal OPS policy breaches.
Bordeleau said he was ordering the probe “based on new information in the documentation and in the interest of transparency.
“I have contacted Commissioner Vince Hawkes of OPP … and asked that all aspects of this matter be investigated by his police service.”
Bordeleau said the force would have no further comment now that the investigation is underway. In his internal email, he told officers that “members are not to comment.”
Police board chair Coun. Eli El-Chantiry confirmed to the Citizen that Bordeleau requested the chair’s authorization by email Monday afternoon to ask the OPP to investigate. El-Chantiry granted the request.
The revelations of alleged evidence manipulation stem from the training incident on June 18, 2014. On that day, Ottawa police tactical officers were conducting a joint-training exercise with other police and paramedics at an abandoned home on March Road. Officers, trying to force entry into the home using explosives, were engulfed by what officers later described to the Citizen as a “fireball” of gas.
More than a year later, in July 2015, the SIU charged Rukavina and constables Carl Grimard and Serge Clement with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and breach of duty to use reasonable care while handling explosives. Just last September, the charges against all officers were stayed.
The letter sent by Edelson makes allegations against three senior employees at the police service: a superintendent, an inspector and a lawyer employed by the service. The Citizen is not, at this point, naming the involved officers and the lawyer.
When the criminal charges against the tactical officers were stayed, a prosecutor who reviewed the charges laid by the SIU, said it was the right move for reasons including contradictions in evidence from the forces involved.
To convict, the Crown would have had to prove the accused tactical officers were aware of the danger of using wiper fluid and gave no thought to the consequences.
That didn’t appear possible, the prosecutor said, given the “long-standing and settled practice and training” at Ottawa police of using wiper fluid to fill the devices police use to blast their way into a structure.
The officers were following accepted practice and training and were not warned of the danger of the practice, court heard at the time.
Rukavina was the scene commander. Clement and Grimard filled the device with windshield washer fluid.
According to the prosecutor, the police service told the SIU that using wiper fluid to fill the devices was an “accepted practice in explosive forced entry training” — which was confirmed by numerous members of its tactical unit. That, however, is at odds with the evidence allegedly attributed to some senior officers in the disclosure.
While the SIU had been investigating any criminality in the training explosion, the Ministry of Labour was also conducting a parallel investigation. That labour investigation resulted in 10 Occupational Health and Safety Act charges laid against the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Services Board alleging proper procedural and training precautions weren’t taken to prevent the explosion.
In a further twist, the Citizen has learned, the five labour charges laid against the police board were withdrawn by the Crown last Thursday. Five charges against the city had previously been stayed.
Rukavina told the Citizen that “this experience has been very difficult for myself and my family. I have tried to live and raise my family knowing that a higher standard was expected of me as a police officer.”
The officer said, “It would be as inappropriate of me to comment to the media about this now, as it was for others who have done so in the past.” Rukavina referred any further questions to his lawyer.
The Citizen could not immediately reach Edelson.
Rod Sellar, who represents Grimard, said he could not comment on the matter. Grimard did not reply to a Citizen attempt to contact him.
Al O’Brien, who represented Clement, said he was not aware of any request for any investigation. Clement, also, did not reply to a Citizen attempt to contact him.