Protesters block Highway 417 off-ramp to demand police budget freeze
Vote on Ottawa police budget delayed until Tuesday
Protesters blocked a downtown Highway 417 off-ramp Monday night to push for the Ottawa Police Services Board to consider a budget freeze for the police force.
They want the budget frozen at 2021 levels and money directed instead toward community supports for Black and Indigenous people.
The board was expected to vote on the Ottawa Police Service budget Monday, but after hearing from numerous delegations in a five-hour meeting — many of them opposed to the budget increase proposed by the force — it decided around 9 p.m. to adjourn until 3 p.m. Tuesday.
About an hour after the board began its review, protesters set up a blockade at the Metcalfe Street exit off Highway 417 onto Isabella Street.
Vanessa Dorimain is a co-chair with the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, one of two groups that has set up the blockade. The other group is the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project. The volunteer-run coalition organizes against systemic anti-Black racism.
Dorimain said the protest is also a show of solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en in northern B.C. Last week, police arrested several people who are demonstrating against the Coastal GasLink project there.
"We knew there would be people who wouldn't be happy, but we wanted to be in a place where we can't be ignored," Dorimain said.
With the delay in the vote, Dorimain said the group of about 25 people will continue to press the importance of a budget freeze. They left the road around midnight, according to Instagram posts, and plan to reconvene at Elgin and Lisgar streets at 2 p.m.
One member of Dorimain's group was arrested but was released within 30 minutes, she said, adding the group had received verbal abuse from irate drivers.
Ottawa and provincial police were on site managing traffic flow.
The Ottawa police tabled its draft budget for 2022 earlier this month. The draft asks for a 2.86 per cent tax increase. This is about $14 million in new money for a total operating budget of $346.5 million.
A press release from the coalition also includes a list of priorities for the Black and Indigenous communities in the city, including increased resources for BIPOC students in schools, affordable housing and an end to police involvement in mental health checks.
Dorimain said the coalition sent the list to city councillors and this protest is the beginning of "putting the city on notice" about the work that needs to be done to support the city's residents in advance of the 2022 municipal election.