Police freebies spark resignation - Ethics adviser to chiefs' association quits over free Dion tickets, Taser sponsorship of conference
April 9, 2009
Noor Javed, Toronto Star
John Jones has spent his professional life lecturing on the ethical conduct of police. The retired professor never thought he would one day become part of the lesson plan.
Last week, Jones resigned as technical adviser for the ethics committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police over corporate sponsorship practices at the association's annual conference.
For three years, Taser International acted as a platinum sponsor for the police chiefs' conference, contributing a total of $75,000 to the increasingly "lavish" event.
At the 2008 conference in Montreal, Jones said he was further dismayed to learn delegates were being given free Céline Dion concert tickets, with half the aggregate cost of the tickets covered by a joint Bell Mobility-CGI-Group Techna donation of $115,000.
"The rank and file in a police organization are warned about accepting any freebies, that in fact (it) could be subject to discipline," said Jones.
He was therefore "shocked" that chiefs of police "who invoke that expectation ... would then avail themselves of $215 Céline Dion tickets," Jones said. "There's an embedded hypocrisy there."
The ethics committee relayed its "serious concerns" to the association's board of directors during the conference, and again at a November meeting.
The response by executive director Peter Cuthbert was read out last week at the ethics committee's first 2009 meeting.
"Essentially the memo said, `We are going to continue business as usual, and we don't see any conflicts of interest,'" Jones said.
"When I heard the memo being read, I really felt I was personally being compromised." He resigned immediately.
Cuthbert says he sees nothing wrong with the police chiefs accepting sponsorship money, which is needed to fund a conference that costs $800,000 to stage yearly.
Other sponsors include Canadian Bankers Association, Loto-Quebec, Microsoft and the RCMP, which sponsors the professional development part of the conference.
"The board deals with this debate every year," Cuthbert said.
Since the directors do not recommend or endorse Tasers, "at the end of the day, (they) believed it was ethical to continue our relationship," said Cuthbert.
However the police chiefs' group recently joined the Canadian Police Association in releasing a "position document" backing the use of conducted energy weapons (the technical name for Tasers).
Cuthbert says there is no link between the Taser sponsorship and the position paper.
But that's where the ethical line gets blurry, said Jones. "Once you're into sponsorship, you're into tricky territory.
"Generally, commercial enterprises do not operate altruistically. When they donate money, they expect there is something in return."