City councillor joins growing call to defund police

An Ottawa city councillor is calling for a rethink of the police budget in the wake of widespread protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

Shawn Menard says money could be used instead for community supports

A posted attached to a pole on Bank Street calls for solidarity with protesters in the United States. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

An Ottawa city councillor is calling for a rethink of the police budget in the wake of widespread protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

In a tweet Thursday, Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard used the hashtag #DefundThePolice, a slogan attached to a growing movement urging governments to reconsider the use of taxpayers' dollars to militarize local law enforcement, and use the money instead for mental health supports and other services that benefit the community.


Speaking on CBC's Ottawa Morning Friday, Menard clarified that he's not calling for the Ottawa Police Service's entire budget to be withdrawn.

"Obviously context is important in this discussion," he said. "I don't mean zeroing out a budget. What I do mean is there are a number of expensive services currently provided by police where outcomes could improve and which could be better handled by other professionals." 

The police service's operating budget for 2020 is nearly $358 million, including $38 million in revenue and an additional $4 million from various fees. Most of that money goes toward paying officers.

Menard noted that accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the city's total budget, and has increased threefold over the past two decades, a higher rate than other city-funded services. 

"I'm not calling for a reduction in broad-based funding, what I am calling for is a shift in that funding," Menard said. 

Kitchissippi ward Coun. Jeff Leiper has also issued a statement about "moving resources from policing to more effective measures."

Chief open to discussion

The discussion about redirecting police funding gained momentum after the death of Floyd, who died after a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., pressed his knee into the handcuffed man's neck for nine minutes, asphyxiating him.

In a video of the killing, Floyd can be heard gasping the words, "I can't breathe" before going silent. 

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly has signified he's open to discussions surrounding changes to his force's budget, but told CBC "not out of retribution."

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said he's open to a conversation about the force's budget, but 'not out of retribution.' (Stu Mills/CBC )

"How do we actually make this dollar go as far as it can? And who's willing to make sacrifices and do something differently?" Sloly asked The Current's Matt Galloway.

"That's a different discussion than punish the police, disband the police, defund the police — that's a much more healthy discussion." 

Menard argued funds allocated for police services could instead be funnelled toward social services and other community investments, potentially lowering the city's crime rate. 

"One of the areas we really need to look at is the new emergency service that connects people with unarmed mental health emergency service workers that are trained to provide health and social care required in crisis situations," he said. 

"This is happening already, in other places around the world. It's front-line programs that work in conjunction with the police." 

Mayor opposes move to defund police

Mayor Jim Watson, however, appeared to criticize the councillor over his comments to defund the city's police service. 

"Mayor Watson is strongly opposed to slashing the budget of the Ottawa Police Service - a budget approved unanimously by Ottawa City Council on December 11, 2019," a statement from the mayor's press secretary, Patrick Champagne, reads.

"Mayor Watson is surprised by the inconsistency of a few councillors who constantly demand a greater police presence in their communities and then turn around to support deep cuts to the police service. 

"Further, having just concluded a round of council outreach on this issue, he is confident that an overwhelming majority of members of council are not in favour of defunding the OPS."

The statement also notes Sloly was hired with the express mandate to reform the organization, and that cutting the budget would undermine those efforts. 

While Menard voted in favour of the city's 2020 budget, he said that doesn't mean he supports the budget in its entirety. 

"I know there is a need for some police resources within certain areas within communities. I'm not saying that you want to completely cut that out. What I am saying is that we can be doing things a lot better," he said.

With files from Ottawa Morning

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