There have been several attempts to address changes to policing and public health at the Ottawa City Council table.
In June 2020, Councillor King and I requested that city staff provide council with options for a public engagement process on the subject of police reform in Ottawa.
Unfortunately, city staff responded to their inquiry by advising against city-led public engagement on this subject, stating that the City of Ottawa has limited direct oversight of police services in Ottawa, and should therefore leave these matters to the Ottawa Police Services Board. City Council still indirectly oversees the police board, and can send back their budget proposals. Further, city council can also offer advice and recommendations to their police boards, as Toronto City Council recently did. The argument as to why changes to policing and public health should take place can and should be informed by council and the people they represent through a public engagement exercise.
On October 14th 2020 Councillor McKenney and I moved an amendment to the 2021 budget directions to reallocate a portion ($4.4 million) of the Ottawa Police Services projected budget increase ($13.1 million) to the Ottawa Public Health municipal budget increase for 2021 (forecast at only $920 thousand of municipal funds). This motion was a very modest attempt to act on the belief that the Ottawa Police Services budget should not be seeing an increase that is 10x greater than the increase projected for Ottawa Public Health amidst a global pandemic. Only 4 City Councillors (Menard, McKenney, Leiper, and Fleury) supported this motion. The Ottawa Citizen editorial on that motion can be found here. My closing remarks from that debate here.
After this motion was defeated, we tried again to make a modest re-allocation of funds from policing to preventative measures that get results. This time we were asking for revenues generated from Red Light Camera enforcement to go towards traffic calming measures instead of the already bloated police budget. Unfortunately, this motion was also not carried by council.
Councillor McKenney and I then brought forward a motion to Ottawa City Council, which attempted to set the stage for a future budget re-allocation within the OPS budget in favour of alternative models of community safety response. We campaigned on this motion through a petition that saw thousands of residents sign on.
This motion was successful, and explicitly confirmed that the OPS Board would:
- Consult and work collaboratively with a broad range of community, municipal and other stakeholders, including but not limited to Ottawa Public Health (OPH), Crime Prevention Ottawa (CPO), community and social service agencies, housing, homelessness and advocacy organizations, and representation from Black, Indigenous and racialized groups in the development of a comprehensive “whole of city” mental health strategy that reflects the OPS and OPSB’s commitment to reconciliation and the United Nations Declaration for the Decade for People of African Descent; and
- Open up their consultations beyond organizational stakeholders to include the broader public
- Include in its mental health strategy consultations, and corresponding report, discussion of potential alternative models of community safety response including those that allow for a non-police response when warranted.
Since then we have seen a minor reallocation along these lines in the 2022 budget. More needs to be done.