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RNC Chief Joe Boland says he did not call for removal of Status of Women Council executive director Jenny Wright

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland speaks to reporters Wednesday at RNC headquarters in St. John's.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland speaks to reporters Wednesday at RNC headquarters in St. John's. - David Maher
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland says it was a tweet that raised his concerns about Jenny Wright. 

Boland held a news conference on Wednesday to address reports surrounding his involvement in a letter sent to the St. John’s Status of Women Council (SJSWC) last November expressing concern about her work as head of the organization. 

“We firmly believe that the damaged relationship can be repaired, recognizing that doing so will require honesty, frankness and a commitment to true partnership, support and collaboration going forward,” reads the letter, which was signed by Boland, current deputy minister for the Women’s Policy Office Linda Ross and eight community organizations. 

The letter goes on to state, “It is a persistent concern that the SJSWC’s executive director has acted in a matter that has created a divide within the community sector that has diminished opportunities for collaboration and partnerships.”

“There was nothing in this letter that talked about or pressured Ms. Wright to leave. Nowhere in the letter.” — RNC Chief Joe Boland

As previously reported, Wright said the letter alone did not cause her to resign her position as head of the SJSWC, but it was a factor in her decision to leave her job in March.

Boland says the letter did not explicitly call for Wright’s removal as head of the SJSWC.

“Where was the pressure to leave? To say what though? The letter says that we would like a meeting so that we could repair, that we wanted this relationship repaired,” said Boland. 

“There was nothing in this letter that talked about or pressured Ms. Wright to leave. Nowhere in the letter.”

Boland says he has received a request for a meeting from the SJSWC, but to date has not spoken to any women’s group about the matter. 

Stacey Howse, acting executive director of First Light (formerly known as the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre), says it doesn’t make her feel any better that the letter did not explicitly call for Wright’s removal. 

“It feels as if the RNC, they’re not being accountable to their actions. The police are able to exercise the power that other groups are unable to. That alone makes it inappropriate,” said Howse. 

“The bottom line is they shouldn’t be telling community groups what position to take on any matter which affects their community.”

On Wednesday, First Light issued a statement calling for Justice Minister Andrew Parsons and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Carol Anne Haley to “hold accountable anyone who stifles critical voices on women’s issues.” First Light also withdrew its participation on the Minister’s Committee on Violence Against Women and Girls. 

Parsons and Haley did not provide interviews on the matter, but did issue statements, each denying any role by the provincial government in the writing of the letter. Parsons and Haley were both CC’d on the email containing the letter that was sent to the SJSWC board of directors. 

“We regret the decision of First Light to suspend participation in the Minister’s Committee on Violence Against Women and Girls, but hope to continue working with them in the future,” reads a portion of Haley’s statement.

“The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, including the minister of Justice and Public Safety and attorney general, does not give direction to police. Police have independent authority to determine operations,” reads a portion of Parsons’ statement.

Boland says a tweet sent on Aug. 1, 2018 first raised his concern that Wright had “undermined public confidence” in the RNC.  

The tweet in question saw Wright comment on an article about RNC Const. Steve Curnew violating an emergency protection order that was meant to keep him away from his ex-wife.

Curnew later pleaded guilty to the charge. 

“Jesus, there is so much wrong here. How often do we see this? A man who is in a position of trust, in his case the voice of the police and an abuser at home,” read the first tweet in the thread.

Boland says the part that concerned him was later in the thread.

“And for the love of all that’s holy, understand why positions of power like police are so attractive to abusers and listen to women’s groups,” Wright wrote.

Boland says that comment undermined public confidence in police, so he decided to do something about it.

“I thought about calling Ms. Wright. But, based on the tweet, I didn’t think that would be productive. I thought about writing a letter to The Telegram to address it. I thought about doing a press conference to address it,” Boland said. 

“In the end, Ms. Wright, like me, we have a boss. I decided to call her boss and ask for a meeting. No other organizations involved, no letter, this would have been the first week of August. I

Jenny Wright.
Jenny Wright.

requested a meeting with the board of directors for the St. John’s Status of Women’s council.”

A 2016 study published by the Maurice A. Deane School of Law entitled “Black and Blue Bloods” found that wives of police officers in the United States are 15 per cent more likely to experience domestic violence than the rest of the population.

Boland says his concern most of all is public confidence in police.

“Jenny’s been critical of the police, with Northern Spotlight. We didn’t, you know, yeah, we may not agree with some of the things, but that’s not what concerned me. What concerned me here had completely to do with public confidence in policing,” Boland said. 

“Look, I got officers here that are very committed and dedicated to what they do. … They don’t sleep well at night because of it. They really struggled with how they were being identified here as police officers with this organization.”

Operation Northern Spotlight was an operation where police posing as clients of sex workers called sex workers into hotel rooms to interview them about their work, as a way to weed out exploitation. After an uproar from the community, Boland shut down the project. 

Howse says Boland needs to work to restore trust with women's groups across the province. 

“I think that accountability is really important, and transparency. First Light specifically asked to attend the press conference this morning because we feel we have a stake in these discussions, and we were denied,” she said.

“This doesn’t demonstrate accountability or restoring trust in the community.”


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