Prominent psychiatrist recommended as new chair of Ottawa police board
An accomplished youth psychiatrist and mental-health care leader has been recommended as the new chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board.
City council will be asked Wednesday to approve Dr. Gail Beck, the interim chief of staff and psychiatrist-in-chief at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, as the new citizen appointee to the board. Members would then be responsible for electing her to the chair’s role.
The recommendation of Beck by a panel that included Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and councillors Cathy Curry and Rawlson King followed an “extensive community recruitment,” according to a memo from the police board’s executive director, Krista Ferraro, obtained by this newspaper.
“Her experience, community insight, leadership, and championing of the health needs of women, children and persons with disabilities will be a great asset to the board, as it guides, provides oversight and sets strategy for the Ottawa Police Service,” Ferraro wrote.
Beck is also the clinical director of youth psychiatry at The Royal, where she’s been on staff since 2002, according to the hospital’s website.
Bilingual and a medical school graduate from McGill University in 1978, according to LinkedIn, Beck currently chairs the board of directors at Algonquin College. Her previous board experience spans years at the Ontario Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association, and she was previously the president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada.
The OPS board chair also serves as its official spokesperson, and Beck is no stranger to the media, regularly writing and being interviewed about issues related to youth mental health. Her writing has included columns for the Citizen.
Sutcliffe campaigned on a promise to take one of three seats on police board reserved for members of city council and to “recruit a strong, independent community member” to serve as police board chair.
Previous to this term of council, when communications consultant and past police board member Suzanne Valiquet has filled the role, the chair of the Ottawa Police Service’s oversight board has for years been a city councillor.
Between 2009 and 2018 it was then-West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry’s post. He returned to it last February, replacing then-Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, and continued in it until departing from his council post last fall. Deans had occupied the board chair’s role throughout the last council term, and had been the board’s first post-amalgamation female chair, until her dramatic ousting during the convoy protest.
Sitting on the board with Sutcliffe this term are councillors Curry and Marty Carr, alongside Valiquet and three provincial appointees. When recruitment for a new chair was underway earlier this year, Valiquet told this newspaper it was time to make room for another resident after her six total years on the board, and said she would be leaving.
Beck’s appointment comes at a time of reckoning — in society, and inside city hall — with the role of the police when it comes to mental heath and addictions. The city, with the involvement of the Ottawa Police Service and other institutional and community partners, has been engaged in work to set up an alternative response to such calls.
The panel’s recommendation of Beck was to be released publicly on Friday, in a report included on the agenda for next week’s council meeting.
In December, council voted to increase compensation for the next citizen elected chair of the police board to $54,000 annually, considering the responsibility of the role and time required. The previous chair’s honorarium, which Valiquet receives, is $1,000 a month.