The Natural Laws of Police Union Presidents
Last week, Ottawa’s racialized communities and women across cultures looked for a gesture of solidarity from Ottawa Police Services members. To vote Matt Skof out as the longstanding president of the Ottawa Police Association and replace him with someone who embodied integrity, equality and respect would have, in their eyes, signalled a new era.
Instead, they were left dumbfounded – shocked, in fact – when they learned that Skof was once again re-elected. A police officer, who eviscerated the public confidence in the service, who endangered, dismissed and lied to his own members, who denies that systemic racism exists in the service, making it a magical microcosm impervious to a scourge found in every sector and profession, and who was criminally charged, was re-elected.
As disappointing as this is, it is not a surprise.
What the community needs to understand is that Skof is a union president, not a community leader, with a mandate to represent his membership. Jimmy Hoffa didn’t care about the warehouse owners and supply chain magnates that Teamster truckers served – he cared about his members, lining their pockets along with his. Likewise, Skof doesn’t care what the community wants, although many say he should. But if he did, he would be in direct conflict with his members, some of which are the source of the community’s ire.
On that notion, Skof’s political ingenuity, seen in many who must strive to maintain their seat, renders him a caricature of effective leadership who indiscriminately makes use of anyone who will serve his agenda, eating the hair and bones. Let’s not forget though, the members did not vote for integrity or community relations – they voted for collective bargaining, salaries and benefits, ensuring they could meet their financial obligations, spousal support, cottage or boat payment.
Skof knew this. He delivered it in his last term and that is what he campaigned on as an incumbent. Not being acclaimed in this election gave a glimmer of hope that the membership might take a chance on a new face with less experience in exchnage for some community trust.
For Skof, garnering votes has little to do with offering or ability – it only takes two elements, fear of change and fear of Skof’s supporters. But the fear goes both ways. Skof could never go back to the day-to-day drone of policing and with his trial looming, this is even less likely. As union president, he has said he is so vilified by some that this fear is instilled in maintaining his position, ensuring operational distance from those he has crossed, ridiculed and dismissed.
Certainly, people are disappointed but the public and the media are, in part, to blame. Both have come to hold police and policing to the very standard they are criticized of: autonomous authority. That is only true outside the institution; inside they have no legitimate autonomy and no individual power: they must all move together or not at all. In a service where individual morality can be frowned upon, even punished, the membership may be hard pressed to ever meet the expectations of the public it serves.
Just as policing is incapable of an uprising or mutiny so are the communities. For the concerned and engaged public, representing only a fraction of this city, they simply do not have the vote strength to effect change and influence politicians. With little chance of infusing the bike-lane-loving, real estate and infrastructure obsessed NIMBY-ists of Ottawa with a sense of human and civil rights, those focused on social change and police service reformation will stay disappointed.
Helpful to remember, when Chief Charles Bordeleau was running the Ottawa Police Services into dry ground with his first mate, Eli El-Chantiry, Skof lamented time after time how disengenious and despicable those two were. Now, Skof has adapted, finding an ally in El-Chantiry, both aligning with each other to suit their agendas (noting, El-Chantiry has a lot to lose when the entirety of the recordings are heard).
What I have learned thus far, as a witness in Skof’s upcoming trial, is that just as misery loves company so does distain. Never underestimate the lengths one will go to, or who they will crawl into bed with, as they cling to their position and future aspirations, attempting to avoid career implosion, disclosure of criminality or prison. To that, I can only say their recent actions, whipping their foot soldiers into frenzied attacks against a witness, will not serve them well.
That aside, congratulations to Matt Skof. Not for his landmark turnout and re-election, but for what he has embarked on: a demonstration of selective retention, one of Darwin's little known natural law theories ... "those who adapt using unorthodox (corrupted) processes will survive within their own ecosystem, only until stronger external forces dispose of them ..."