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Ottawa council puts public discussions on police reform in motion

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King officially became the city's first liaison for anti-racism and ethnocultural relations on Wednesday. File photo. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

On the same day it formalized the addition of an anti-racism voice among its ranks, Ottawa city council directed staff to come up with options for a public engagement plan to improve policing in the capital.

A motion to name Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King as council’s first liaison for anti-racism and ethnocultural relations received unanimous approval from his fellow councillors on Wednesday.

The position will see King apply an anti-racism lens to policy decisions made at council and the outcomes of programs city-wide.

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King wasted no time pushing for action in his new role.

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At the close of Wednesday’s council meeting he put forward an inquiry, seconded by Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, asking staff to present three options for a public engagement process on possible reforms to the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).

Staff are expected to present these options, without recommendation, by the end of the month.

The direction comes less than a week after thousands of Ottawa residents marched through the streets in solidarity against racism and brutality in policing following numerous recent instances of police violence against Black and Indigenous lives in Canada and around the world.

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Mayor Jim Watson, who attended the march in spite of criticisms from members of the Black community, praised the demonstration’s “historic” impact on the community.

“It was a true sign of unity and solidarity,” he said during Wednesday’s council meeting.

He added, on the topic of King’s appointment as council’s anti-racism liaison, that eliminating racism is not a job for only one councillor, but a “collective responsibility” for the entire elected body.

Asked by Global News after Wednesday’s council meeting what he would personally do to combat systemic racism in Ottawa, Watson said he would support King in developing a strategy to be implemented by whomever is tapped to lead the new anti-racism secretariat created in last year’s budget.

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He also noted his role on the Ottawa Police Service Board, and said he would work with the chief of police, Peter Sloly, in bringing forward initiatives that would combat racism inside police headquarters.

He said he would work “as best as we can” to ensure there are financial resources available to run “aggressive” educational campaigns on the topic in collaboration with Ottawa’s school boards.

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He said he would work with city manager Steve Kanellakos to ensure any employees that are found to engage in “inappropriate and vulgar, racist activities” would be “dealt with,” and would “no longer call the City of Ottawa their employer.”

He said ideas about any specific reforms to the OPS fall under the jurisdiction of the police board, which works with the chief to bring forward his initiatives.

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Sandy Smallwood, acting chair of the police board, told Global News in a statement Tuesday that adopting body-worn cameras would be among the options considered in the next OPS budget.

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