Halton Regional Police Chief Stephen Tanner is apologizing for his decision to address “personal business matters” by taking a trip out of Canada amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Tanner admitted he travelled to Florida with the “knowledge and support” of the Halton Police Board Chair in recent days.
“My decision to travel in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation was a poor decision, and one that I deeply regret,” Tanner said.
“I am returning to the country this weekend and will be complying with the requirements to quarantine upon my arrival in Canada.”
The head of the union that represents close to 700 police officers in Halton Region says the whereabouts of the Chief came to light when he did not appear at a memorial for Det. Const. Mike Tidball from the regional fraud unit who died suddenly on Wednesday.
Clayton Gillis, president of Halton Regional Police Association, confirmed to Global News that Chief Tanner travelled to Florida despite pleas from the province’s medical officials telling Ontarians to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union boss says he had a conversation on Tuesday with the Chief over the phone and found out only a couple of days ago that Tanner was in the U.S.
He went on to say that he was not sure about the circumstances of his trip, whether it was for leisure or an essential trip, and has assured union members the board will be looking into why he travelled.
“We want to give him the opportunity to provide that answer to people,” Gillis told Global News.
“Obviously, our members are concerned if it was a choice made for just the sake of a vacation given all the public scrutiny we’ve had with other public officials and whatnot.”
Gillis says he was told that the chair of the region’s police services board was made aware of the chief’s intentions to travel to Florida.
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, who is the chair of the Halton police board, told Global News in a statement that he was in fact notified in advance by the Chief that he would be travelling to the U.S. “to tend to a property matter.”
“I had no objection. Chief Tanner continues to have my full confidence,” Burton said in his statement.
“The Chief leads our police service in an exemplary manner and will continue to do so.”
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said she’s been “troubled” by the recent news a number of elected officials have been travelling abroad amid the pandemic. She suggested in a Global News interview that Tanner’s trip impacts the community’s general faith in leaders.
“As an elected official trying to encourage the community to work with us, to listen to us, to kick this pandemic to the curb, we can not afford to lose public trust and that is what this does,” Meed Ward said.
In his apology, Tanner said the death of Tidball and the fact that he was not there to support staff after the episode was “weighing” on him and extends his “deepest apologies” to every member of the service.
“My absence is a distraction from their healing and has taken the focus away from what is most important at this time,” said Tanner.
Gillis says no formal complaint has been made by the union at this point but did say members had come forward with “visceral feelings” about the matter.
“We’ll be seeking clarification from the police services board on the timelines around all that stuff, and when and why those decisions were made,” said Gillis.
Tanner’s trip is the latest to be facing criticism after a number of public officials across Canada took out-of-country trips during the holidays.
Last week, MPP Rod Phillips resigned his post as finance minister after taking a “personal trip” to the Caribbean during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Dr. Thomas Stewart, who was president and CEO of the St. Joseph’s Health System, parted ways with the agency after it was discovered he also took a trip to the Caribbean during the holidays.