Oakville Mayor Rob Burton resigns as chair of Halton police board after approving chief’s Florida travel
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton has resigned as chair of the Halton regional police board after granting the police chief permission to travel to Florida for a personal property matter as COVID-19 numbers climbed and Ontarians were urged to stay home for the holidays.
“I am resigning now as a member of the Halton Police Board, deeply regretful for my response to the chief’s proposed trip,” Burton said in a statement Monday.
Halton police chief Stephen Tanner told the Star Friday he travelled to Florida to attend to a “personal property-related business matter” on Dec. 26, the day Ontario’s lockdown came into effect amid dangerous levels of COVID-19 across the province.
Tanner, who has since returned from Florida and begun a 14-day quarantine, apologized for the trip last week, saying travel abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic “was a poor decision.”
In response to “concerns regarding Chief Tanner’s recent travel to the US,” Halton’s police board has scheduled a closed-door meeting for Friday afternoon, said Oakville city Coun. Jeff Knoll, who is now acting chair of Halton’s police board.
Tanner’s trip — which came to light due to his noticeable absence following the on-duty death of one of his officers last week — has prompted anger and shock from many in the region, including front-line officers, some of whom are calling for the chief to resign next, according to Halton’s police union.
“There’s a strong, strong contingent of officers who are absolutely insistent, given all that has transpired and the precedent set by other public figures, that he should resign,” Halton Regional Police Association president Clay Gillis said Monday.
The trip was approved by Burton on Dec. 22 — one day after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a lockdown would come into effect on Boxing Day, and the same day Ford said the province was “at a tipping point” at which hospitals could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
In an interview Friday, Burton said he stood by the decision to allow Tanner to travel for property reasons, saying he “knew of no law or regulation forbidding international travel, nothing like that.”
Asked Friday if he knew which day Tanner was set to travel, Burton told the Star in an email that he “wasn’t involved in his flight arrangements.”
In his statement on Monday, Burton said he had been focused “on the ways the chief’s trip qualified as essential travel.” Burton said he should have said no to the trip “because it could generate public concern about me not setting a higher example than the rules and guidelines actually called for.”
Burlington mayor Marianne Meed Ward said Friday she was “flooded” by messages from constituents who said they hadn’t gone to visit their own properties in Florida because it was clear that didn’t qualify as essential travel.
Public officials have to “walk the talk and hold ourselves not only to the same standard we expect, but a higher standard,” she said.
The Star canvassed police services in Ontario Monday about the whereabouts of their chiefs over the holidays. Toronto, Durham Region, Peel Region and the Ontario Provincial Police confirmed their chiefs did not travel.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis