Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Community equity and safety consultations

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Last June at the height of resident calls to address police funding, I wrote a post looking at how a re-allocation of that into measures that build a more equitable city, and thus safer city for everyone, might be accomplished. My emphasis was on the Community Safety and Well-Being (CSWB) Plan that the City is mandated to develop under provincial rules.
Since I wrote in June, there has been an active discussion in Ottawa about policing and safety, racism, poverty, homelessness, mental health and addiction. The verdict in the Abdirahman Abdi trial re-ignited an already urgent demand for justice and equity. The pandemic should have made absolutely clear to every resident of Ottawa the fundamental inequities in our city that we must address. In October, the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan's local priorities were established in a preliminary reportOur key debate in the development of the 2021 municipal budget was over holding the line on police funding and better funding services that address security for everyone.
There are no guarantees, and much depends on resident direction and political will. But I do believe that today we have the opportunity to put our city on the path to real social justice. Global momentum is on our side, and even if there is local inertia and jurisdictional complexity the door is at least open for residents to express their views.
Key discussions
Today, I'm writing because there are three consultations of note underway (or that will be shortly) that I consider inter-related and in which I encourage everyone to participate.
  • Community Safety and Well-Being Plan: Underway now until February 28 is a second phase of consultation to lend precision to the interim priorities. I continue to believe that our Plan should describe the ways in which poverty, homelessness. racism and health intersect to diminsh our safety as a community, and to provide a roadmap to properly allocating all of our city's resources to achieving the goals that will be described by the plan. Participate in that here.
  • On Monday evening, the Ottawa Police Service will outline to its Board a consultation approach for a new mental health approach strategy. You can read its plans for consultation here, and get more information about that meeting here.
  • The City's Anti-racism and Ethnocultural Secretariat is conducting consultations to determine actions on its priority areas (employment equity, housing, governance, economic development, health outcomes and youth development). Get more details about that and participate in a survey here.
Police and mental health consultation
I'd like to offer a few words on the police consultations on mental health response ahead of their presentation on Monday.
The pandemic has been a real lesson in seeing evolving attitudes on community safety. People have learned about services like the Salvation Army outreach accessed through 3-1-1, and groups such as Somerset West Community Health Centre have begun offering new community response tools. Merchants and residents are seeing first-hand how much safer the streets can be for everyone when somethng like the Tom Brown respite centre opens. Many residents seem to be relieved that they have options other than police to assist the most marginalized, and they're asking for more of those options. Still, I get calls from some residents asking me to get police involved when they see more visible homelessness and addiction hoping that police will "move them along". 
I will share that I am very worried that many of the initiatives that have been put in place to help the most marginalized through the pandemic are going to disappear when the virus is yesterday's headline. The effort that police are undertaking to emphasize better response to mental health issues is important to me. Where I think there will be tension in the consultation described above is that despite language that emphasizes a multi-partner approach, the funding doesn't match. 
The proposed community-based Guiding Council in that consulation may lead the creation of a new police approach. Fundamentally, though, the issue will be that neither those key stakeholders nor many in the community ultimately want to establish an approach for how police respond to mental health issues. Rather, I'm sure they would prefer to discuss whether police should be centered in our society's response at all. Funding decisions, however, mean non-police response is inadequately funded and so police continue to be the front line. To try to be more succinct, the Guiding Council won't have an option to withdraw police from mental health response. They may ultimately be able to give OPS direction that it should not be the primary response on a category large or small to calls, but without adequately funded alternatives police will still be the backstop. Unfortunately, it won't be within the purview of the Guiding Council nor OPS to direct the funding of better alternatives.
I do hope that the consultations will be a learning experience for all of us on how police response can be improved. Within the current paradigm, there is likely much good that can be achieved with tools like training, collaboration across agencies, and thoughtful data collection that recognizes many of the intersections of mental health issues with racism, poverty, health and homelessness. I consider that OPS has proposed a good Guiding Council and I believe the effort they've described to actively solicit the input from those who are most affected is sincere. 
I'll have tempered expectations, however.
This process without a larger re-allocation of resources and additional resources won't result in a better societal response to mental health issues. It can only promise to improve police response at a time when many are seeking to replace police response, or at least response centered on police, altogether. That's why I believe it's so important to be a part of the CSWB Plan consultations. None of these consultations should be viewed in isolation, and we'll succeed to the extent that we explicitly recognize the intersection of all three.
Posted January 22, 2021