OPPA attack ads cross the line
An image taken from an Ontario Provincial Police Association ad which targets PC Leader Tim Hudak.
Who do you call when the police break a law?
You have to ask that as the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) sent shockwaves through the election campaign Monday with attack ads targeting PC leader Tim Hudak.
It’s the first time the OPPA has entered the political fray with advertising.
I hope it’s the last.
“We’re here to keep you safe,” says one ad — and shows uniformed officer pushing a lawbreaker into a cruiser.
“We’re the OPP and we’re here for you. Who’s Tim Hudak here for?” the voiceover asks.
A respected Toronto lawyer said he believes the ads are illegal and may contravene the Ontario Public Service Act which prohibits civil servants from engaging in political activities unless they take an unpaid leave of absence.
“Yes, I think they have broken the law,” said Paul Copeland, a life bencher with the Law Society, in a telephone interview.
Copeland, who was awarded the Order of Canada for human rights an social justice work, points out that the Public Service Act prohibits civil servants from commenting on politics.
He pointed to a section of the act that says civil servants, “cannot comment publicly outside the scope of his or her duties as a public servant on matters that are directly related to those duties and that are addressed in the policies of a federal or provincial party or in the policies of a candidate in a federal or provincial election.”
Unlike municipal police, OPP are not governed by the Police Services Act, which also prohibits political activity.
Copeland said traditionally it’s considered improper for police, armed forces and judges to comment on political matters.
“They are public servants with a very special status in society and it’s dangerous to the democratic process to have them commenting on political matters and endorsing candidates,” he said.
Meanwhile, OPPA President Jim Christie confirmed there are real cops in the ads — and a real OPP cruiser. They were part of a public service ad put out by the police union to laud the good work they do. They tweaked it for the attack ad.
When asked about the legality of the ads, he said it’s not unusual for cops to participate in political activities.
“I think it’s naive to believe the police services don’t get involved politically,” he told me.
“We’ve donated to campaigns, we’ve attended fundraisers, we’ve gone to leaders’ dinners, we’ve supported golf tournaments, all with the view of putting money in political coffers.”
He said it’s his job as a union leader to fight for the pay, perks and pensions of his members and he’s concerned about Hudak’s plans to freeze OPP pay for two years and change the pension plan for new recruits.
The OPP has received hefty pay hikes under the Liberal government.
An 8.55% pay hike kicked in Jan. 1 as part of the government’s commitment to make them the highest paid force in the province.
That pay hike gave an OPP constable with three years on the job an annual base salary of $90,621.
There are two OPP probes going on at Queen’s Park — one into the Ornge air ambulance scandal, the other into the alleged deletion of e-mails by senior staff in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office as they supposedly attempted to cover their tracks in the gas plant scandal.
How can those probes continue when the force has been politicized like this?
While the act may prohibit police from engaging in political activites — as suggested by Copeland — it’s unclear if the same applies to their association.
Politicians shouldn’t direct cops. And cops shouldn’t engage in the political dialogue during an election when they’ll work for — or perhaps investigate — whoever wins it.
This is a conflict in so many ways. The OPP provide protection for provincial politicians.
Imagine how Hudak feels today, knowing his bodyguards have funded an ad that’s attacking him.
The cops have crossed a big blue line with these ads.
The big question is can we make a citizen’s arrest? And if so, will you do it?
Or shall I?