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Strojwas appointed to police commission by province

Posted on June 8, 2023 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch

Taber Times

Recent changes to the Police Act have allowed for provincial appointments to municipal police commissions, but accepting the new appointees so far hasn’t been a smooth process.

Last month, the Taber Municipal Police Commission (TMPC) got a first look at their provincial appointee, former town councillor Joe Strojwas.

“As you all know, the minister has made some changes to the Police Act. One of those changes was he was going to take the ability to appoint members to commissions. Depending on the size of the commission, determined the number of appointees. I thought we were going to get two, but we got one for sure,” said TMPC chair John MacDonald at the commission’s May 17 meeting. “It was a little bit surprising to me, because I didn’t think this would happen until after the election, but when I got the notice from the minister, I quickly phoned Joe and congratulated him and welcomed him aboard. But we’re in a position where we don’t have any ‘legalese’ in our bylaws right now to accept that. We’ll work through that, and one of the suggestions I had was we have a committee that looks at that bylaw, strike that committee, and make the changes that are necessary and we would present that back to town council for their approval.”

Strojwas, who was present in the gallery but not yet formally sitting as a member of the TMPC, was unsuccessful in a bid for re-election to town council in the 2021 municipal election.

“Do we have any information from the province with regards to term of appointment, mandate?” questioned Coun. Carly Firth, who was concerned about the lack of communication from the province.“So how do we incorporate that into bylaw and policy manual without any of that information?”

Chief Graham Abela indicated that very few details have been forthcoming from the province.

“Section 28 – 31 of the Police Act does dictate some of the rules around appointment, of how many can be appointed, but there is no framework that has been developed or put forward – at least put forward to the police commissions – that speaks to term, authority, voting privilege, tenure, remuneration, recording, none of the pieces around the governance of that. The one thing I’ve been told, verbally but not in a framework, is that the appointment is not supposed to replace a commission member that is currently there, it’s in addition to.”

“What I hear Carly saying is we’re putting the cart before the horse, we can’t make a policy until we have that information,” said Comm. Wendi Chisholm. 

“But we need to make a policy, because we have the information that we have an appointee,” continued Firth. “So we need to incorporate that individual into our commission, but how do we do that without… I have so many questions. If said individual – not this one, but in the future – needs to be removed, what is the mechanism for that?”

Abela pointed out there are processes in place for potential removal.

“That is in the act. The act does speak to the minister being able to remove someone as a provincial appointee, but it doesn’t tell you the mechanism from which to make a complaint to the minister associated with why that person should be removed. That may be a policy issue, with your commission policy. I agree with you, there are a lot of unknowns associated with this.”

“How can we welcome Mr. Strojwas on the committee until we have all our ducks in a row, and have our policy in place?” said Coun. Joanne Sorensen. “I’m not sure.”

Strojwas, speaking from the gallery, appeared to know more about his appointment than the commission being asked to accept it.

“Actually, the letter I received told me that I was appointed effective immediately, and for a three year term.”

Later in the meeting, he described the vetting process in more detail.

“The process of my appointment was quite detailed. I had a number of checkpoints and lists that I had to go through, and things that I had to put through. I found it quite in depth, way more in depth than anything that has been appointed by the Town before, including background checks, everything, it was all done. There was numerous steps I had to go through to get this appointment.”

Abela suggested most other commissions in the province have handled the situation in a similar fashion.

“I think the intent of the government is that they don’t really want to change your processes and procedures that are occurring right now on the commissions. It won’t be too difficult if they don’t put too many framework issues in, because we already have a very good policy and process associated to our commission within our policy manual. Which I think will cover the provincial appointment. I can tell you that in conversation with the chiefs… most commissions have invited the provincial appointees in as invited guests to the commission, until that governance piece is done.”

Comm. Ferris Zaugg argued the TMPC has a duty to let the public know about these provincial appointments.

“Should we have some type of formal announcement to let the public know? I heard they were talking about doing it, now they’ve pushed the magic button and officially invited and had him (Strojwas) come in without the municipal government endorsing him. I’m not saying anything against Joe, but the public should be aware. We now have a member appointed by the provincial government, not the municipal government.”

MacDonald appeared to be less enthusiastic about this approach.

“With all due respect to our mayor and council, we need to give them the information for their debate, and then once they approve it, then we’ll announce it. I think that’s the fair way of doing it.”

Zaugg went on to comment that slipping these appointments past the post mere weeks before a provincial election doesn’t pass the smell test.

“If he’s appointed forthwith by the provincial government, our town council has no choice but to accept it. So it’s not that they’re asking to let us do this, we’re telling you we’re doing this and for a three year term – not a one year, or a two year, but a three year term. I think, just for fairness, transparency, the public should know that the provincial government has stepped in and has made an appointment of a member to our commission. I’m not objecting to it, but we should be forthwith and transparent to everybody what is going on. I think that the public should be aware that this has already happened – not going to happen – but has happened. And it’s interesting that they made it happen just before the election, not after the election, because they might not be the party in power. I’m not saying there’s going to be a switch, but usually you wait until you know you’re the head party before you put things in place.”

“I’ve actually seen the opposite,” said Abela. “Just before the election you make all your appointments, just in case you don’t win. So I see it both ways. For your information, multiple commissions have made the appointments known publicly, in Calgary and Edmonton, prior to the bylaw matters being specifically ironed out within the policing bylaw.”

Firth argued hashing out the bylaw concerns is really much ado about nothing.

“We have an appointed member, so whether we choose to approve the changes to the bylaw policy manual is really irrelevant.”

“Whether we do it or not, he is here, he is on the board – if we did absolutely nothing, he’s here,” said Zaugg.

“He is here, we’re just adjusting the the framework of the bylaw and the policy manual so that it allows for that,” replied Firth.

Zaugg was much more critical of the appointment process, something he believes smacks of undue provincial interference in municipal affairs.

“I would word it a little differently; that we would bow down to their wishes over our town council and police commission without our input, without our knowledge.”

Taking the diplomatic stance, Abela commented the changes to the Police Act were thoroughly vetted prior to implementation.

“I do understand where you’re coming from, from a political ideology perspective, but I can tell you that the changes and amendments that were made to the Police Act, including the provincial appointees, were well spoken to by both the MLA review committee that went around the province and got stakeholder input associated to governance structures of what the commission should look like, and it was contemplated very early that provincial appointments were going to be present.”

Zaugg feared the province will be stepping on more municipal toes in the future.  

“And this is just the first step of many, of them telling us what they’re going to do.”

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