(Photo courtesy of Robin Cimitruk Photography)
BRANTFORD – Winning the 2019 Civil Liberties Award has “validated” Kelly Donovan’s commitment to seeing changes made to the way Ontario police services are governed.
In 2016 the Brantford resident, who served as a police constable and use-of-force instructor with the Waterloo Regional Police for about six years, drew attention to what she saw as abuses of power in the way internal investigations were conducted.
“People in my position, if anything, we’re seen as dissidents,” Donovan said in a recent interview with BRANT.one. “I know there are people out there that appreciate the value in what I’m doing but until this award, you feel like you’re just living in the shadows.“
“The OCLA (Ontario Civil Liberties Association) is recognizing that if I wasn’t advocating for what’s right, if it wasn’t noble, why would (the police service) be fighting me. They would simply say ‘she’s crazy’ and be done with it,” Donovan adds.
Donovan brought issues of bias and arbitrariness to the Police Services Board governing the Waterloo Regional Police Service and was dismayed when they were not objectively or impartially investigated. Instead she was immediately disciplined by the chief and became the subject of an internal investigation herself.
“Ultimately I reported internal issues and I reported them on the basis of them being systemic because I knew in four separate cases the same things were happening,” she said. “So I reported to the board that when there’s an internal issue with one of the members, it’s not handled properly, and I gave them very good examples.”
“The way legislation is written helps pave the way for corruption in police services to go unchallenged,” Donovan adds. “At the time there was no legislation in place to allow a police officer to make a complaint against another police officer; our laws prohibited it. I knew there was no other way to voice these issues other than going to the board because the board oversees the chief and appoints the chief. Ultimately, the chief can decide how internal complaints are handled and if repercussions are valid.”
“I essentially blew the whistle on what was happening and what was happening there was no different than any other police service, and it was because of the law. The law made it so that nobody could speak out,” Donovan said.
Donovan was placed on administrative duties and “muzzled.” She was forbidden to address the board again. “They wrote in a chief’s directive…it said you cannot make any more presentations in front of the board,” Donovan said. “I wouldn’t sign the directive because I said, ‘the board meetings are open to the public, how can you tell me that I can’t go and present to the board?’”
Over 14 months, during her constructive dismissal from her job, Donovan contacted government agencies responsible for police oversight. None of them were willing to intervene.
“Nobody wants to publicly acknowledge what I’m doing and it’s because of the culture; it’s because of the fear that exists. With my story I’ve done everything by the book and every time I challenge government I get shut down.”Kelly Donovan, Ontario Civil Liberties Association Award Winner, 2019
Donovan negotiated a settlement that lifted her “gag order” and left the police service. “I’ve made it very clear – you are never buying my silence,” Donovan said.
She published her report and turned it into a book. She is currently working on her second book. “This all started because the chief was making arbitrary decisions and unlawful decisions but I was always told, ‘the chief can do what he wants,” Donovan said.
Her struggle with the police services continues. “They iled a huge claim against me at the Human Rights Tribunal,” Donovan said. “They’re alleging that every time I’ve spoken publicly, I’ve breached the agreement. Even though there is no non-disclosure agreement they’re saying every time I talk about it, I’m complaining.”
Donovan wants to see changes made to the system that enables whistleblowers to come forward without repercussion. Donovan also wants to see laws rewritten so police chiefs aren’t given full autonomy and Police Services Board members, who ultimately oversee police services, are better educated.
Although it has taken a toll on Donovan mentally, emotionally and financially, she won’t give up. “When I first came forward in 2016 I didn’t think I would be sacrificing my career, I thought they were going to reward me,” she said. “I thought the board was going to say ‘you showed a lot of courage.’” But Donovan would do it all again if necessary.
“I couldn’t live with what I knew without having done something about it.”Kelly Donovan, Ontario Civil Liberties Association Award Winner, 2019