City council unanimously approved a motion Wednesday backing the Ottawa Police Service’s plans to explore new ways to respond to mental health crises with the support of other players in the city.
At Wednesday’s meeting, councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenney put forward a rejigged version of their motion first signalled at the Oct. 14 meeting of council.
While the initial proposal asked the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) to explore alternative emergency response models, a new version was worked out with OPSB Chair Diane Deans to align with reform work already underway within the force.
The unanimous vote mainly throws council support behind directions laid out by the chief of police at Monday’s OPSB meeting, so the motion is largely a symbolic one.
But councillors said Wednesday that it’s important to show elected officials are on board with changing how the city responds to people in mental health crises or other emergencies that might not warrant a police-led approach.
Demonstrators with the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition gathered outside Ottawa City Hall on Wednesday urging councillors to support the Menard-McKenney motion.
Police response to mental health crises has been back in the spotlight in Ottawa since last week’s verdict in the manslaughter trial of Const. Daniel Montsion, who was acquitted on all charges in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi. Abdi’s mental health was a much-discussed topic following his violent arrest and death four years ago.
The case has received renewed attention amid recent defund the police movements and calls to address systemic anti-Black racism in policing systems across the world and here in Ottawa.
“We know there’s appetite in the community for these changes,” Menard said while speaking to his motion on Wednesday.
“People want to see that their city council is supporting a process of meaningful change to these services in our community.”
OPS Chief Peter Sloly also said Monday that he has heard calls for change from the community.
At the OPSB board meeting, he laid out a vision that would see police moved from the “head of the parade” to the “middle” when it comes to mental health response, with other practitioners in the community such as Ottawa Public Health or Crime Prevention Ottawa bringing their expertise to situations that don’t warrant a police-led approach.
Part of that three-year strategy is a public consultation element, which Menard and McKenney called for in their original motion. Sloly came down against proposals to reform police through defunding the force.
Deans affirmed Wednesday that the OPSB is on board with Sloly’s vision and council’s direction to change emergency response models in Ottawa.
“The police services board is ready to adjust the sails,” she said.
Council condemns anti-Asian racism
Earlier on Wednesday, council also denounced recent racist acts against Ottawa’s East Asian community amid false links to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There have been at least 14 hate crimes against residents of East Asian descent so far this year, according to OPS stats, with hundreds more reported across Canada.
Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, council’s liaison for anti-racism and ethnocultural relations, listed off a few of these local incidents, which included a couple yelling racist slurs at people while driving around Nepean, someone spitting on the car of a man dining in a restaurant and verbal threats against a man at the Rideau Centre.
City council unanimously approved a motion from King condemning such acts in the capital.
The motion will also see city staff launch a public awareness campaign to encourage residents to step in when they see racist acts in Ottawa.