Ottawa

Defund the Ottawa police, groups tell police board

People wanting to defund the Ottawa police brought their message directly to the group that oversees the force's budget Monday night.

Police Chief Peter Sloly said calls for defunding are too simplistic

Two protesters hold up signs at the Justice for Abdirahman rally in Ottawa on June 20, 2020. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

People calling to defund the Ottawa police brought their message directly to the group overseeing the force's budget Monday night.

Four of the five members of the public who addressed the Ottawa Police Services Board asked it to redirect money from police to social services such as mental health and housing.

They said officers too often resort to the use of force, especially against people from racialized communities, and are ill-equipped to respond to calls involving people with mental health issues.

"We need to reimagine what law enforcement looks like in Ottawa," said Robin Browne, a member of 613/819 Black Hub, an advocacy organization.

"We're not calling for the abolition of policing … Rather a proper, reallocation of funding that could begin the process of ending the culture of police brutality."

Nearly 10 per cent of city budget is police

Calls to defund police services across North America have grown louder in recent weeks as protests spread in response to police killings of civilians, notably Black or Indigenous people.

Ottawans held a march against racism and police brutality earlier this month, then a protest over the weekend marked the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old man who died following a violent altercation with Ottawa police in July 2016.

Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

A protester raises his fist on Parliament Hill during a rally against anti-black racism and police brutality on June 5, 2020. (Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada)

Farhia Ahmed, a co-founder of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, told the members of the police board it has pushed for reform for years, but the calls have fallen on deaf ears.

"Demands for justice have reached a boiling point and we cannot ignore them," said Ahmed. ​

Farhia Ahmed is one of the co-founders of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition. She says it's time for the police board to undertake serious reforms that prevent police violence against racialized people. (Idil Mussa/CBC News)

Funding police is almost 10 per cent of Ottawa's 2020 budget. At just over $357 million, it's one of the budget's largest line items, with the majority going toward paying officers.

Browne called attention to the increase in funding to Ottawa police in previous years, saying it has grown at a higher rate than other city-funded services.

"We propose the Ottawa Police Service immediately launch a co-development process with the community to identify which social services it will be most effective to shift police funding [to] and create a plan to do so," said Browne. 

"Particular focus should be on immediately establishing non-lethal, compassionate responders in the case of people experiencing mental health crises."

Acting board chair Sandy Smallwood said larger police budgets have been approved in recent years because that's what the community demanded during consultations.

He encouraged people who want to provide input on the police budget to participate in the board's budget consultation process, which normally takes place in the fall.

Defunding won't achieve reform goals: Police chief

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said he recognizes there are systemic issues and committed to reducing discrimination and bias by bringing the force's demographics more in line with the city's and being more proactive to prevent crime.

WATCH: Peter Sloly on racism and police (June 1)

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, in an interview with the CBC’s Adrian Harewood, says he’s taking a proactive approach aimed at preventing similar tragedies from happening in Ottawa. 1:08

But he said defunding police would have a massive impact on society.

"Defunding and disbanding any institution is a complex issue and requires careful analysis, even more careful planning, implementation and evaluation," said Sloly.

Sloly said cuts to the police budget would undercut reforms already underway by reducing training and meaning it couldn't invest in technology such as body cameras.

The police board also unanimously passed a motion from member Daljit Nirman meant to address systemic racism and bias within the force.

It calls for reforming its systems and structures to create a more equitable and inclusive organization, including tracking incidents of discrimination within the force, reviewing its racial profiling policy and co-ordinating with the city's new anti-racism secreteriat

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