Ottawa

Ottawa's largest school board officially cuts ties with police

Ottawa's largest school board will remove school resource officers from all of its schools following a nearly unanimous vote by the board of trustees Thursday.

Board of trustees voted Thursday to end school resource officer program immediately

OCDSB student trustee Joy Liu spoke out against the presence of Ottawa police inside schools. (Sherry Wang)

Ottawa's largest school board will remove school resource officers from all of its schools following a nearly unanimous vote by the board of trustees Thursday.

There has been recent pushback against the 20-year-old school resource officer (SRO) program due to reports of a strained relationship between officers and some students and families.

Earlier this month, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) passed a motion to "immediately and completely" end the program after nearly a year of debate and public consultation.

An Ottawa police school resource officer is seen here working inside a high school in 2014. (CBC)

The item was presented to the board of trustees for an official decision on Thursday night and during the meeting, all but one trustee voted in favour of the motion to remove resource officers from OCDSB schools. 

Donna Blackburn, trustee for Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale, was the only one who opposed.

The board of trustees also voted to reduce its involvement with police to the minimum statutory requirement, and to issue a public apology for all harm done because of the program.

The chair of the board will also write a letter to the City of Ottawa, its anti-racism secretariat and Ottawa police recommending the money saved from removing the SRO program be redirected to student supports.

'We're not starting from zero'

"We have some of that infrastructure in place. There's a reason why our schools have social workers, why our schools have psychologists ... direct connections with community services," student trustee Joy Liu said during the meeting, and prior to the vote.

Liu voted in favour of all the motions presented.

"You look at so many [incidents that involve an SRO] ... it's things like bullying, custody issues, cyberbullying, leaving home without permission, traffic safety and trespassing, even wellness checks," Lieu continued. "Even as I read those things upfront, for me the intuitive answer is not even to call an SRO." 

"We're not starting from zero."

A social justice group, Asilu Collective — that includes current and former Ottawa high school students — renewed its call earlier this month to remove police officers from schools, saying their presence makes students of colour and those who are "gender-oppressed" feel scared and anxious.

Asilu's 32-page report included 125 student testimonials on the harm it says the SRO program poses to those groups.

"Gender-oppressed [students] have reported to Asilu that SROs reinforce a culture of sexual violence, where victims and survivors are shamed and silenced," said Hailey Dash, the group's co-founder.

Hailey Dash is one of the co-founders of Asilu Collective, a group created to call for an end to police intervention in Ottawa-area schools. (Submitted by Hailey Dash)

In an email to CBC News this month, Ottawa police said it's received no complaints from students, parents or school administrators about anxiety over police presence in schools. The force also urged students to report any sexual misconduct.

"We work with the school board to provide a safe environment for reporting such incidents and every report is taken seriously by [police]," according to a statement.

A recent report from the school board's human rights and equity advisor identified a number of concerns identified by high school students, parents, staff and both current and past SROs assigned to two Ottawa schools.

The report noted "each consultation highlighted vivid examples where this policy has worsened the relationships of various stakeholders — students, parents, and members of the wider community — with the police."

Corrections

  • The story incorrectly stated the OCDSB would create a new anti-racism secretariat position to redirect funds. In fact, the board of trustees voted to send a letter recommending the funds be directed to student supports.
    Jun 25, 2021 12:34 PM ET

With files from Nicole Williams

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