The occupation of our downtown core has come to an end, but its impacts are still widely felt. Although, all levels of government have lifted the states of emergency that they enacted in response to the occupation, the recovery and community healing has just begun.
From the beginning of the demonstrations that morphed into an occupation, I was clear that those coming to Ottawa to protest should do so peacefully and respectfully. Like other Ottawa residents, I was disgusted by the hateful acts, harassment and intimidation that infiltrated our downtown core. After the first weekend, it was evident that we were dealing with an illegal protest and priority one was to ensure the health and safety of residents in the impacted area.
As your City Councillor, I worked with the City’s Emergency Operations Team to get a Resource Line in place to assist residents in accessing essential goods and services in the red zone. I also asked the City and Ottawa Police Service (OPS) to arrange daily media briefings so members of the public would have access to accurate and timely updates about the occupation. Councillor King and I were also successful at passing a motion to enable the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and Solicitor General to seek financial compensation for costs associated with managing the occupation from the occupation’s organizers.
As former Chair of the OPSB, I ensured the Board was exercising oversight by holding multiple public and in-camera meetings. During Board meetings, I repeatedly asked the Chief of Police for more information about his plans to end the illegal occupation. I raised concerns about the lack of enforcement of City Bylaws and laws and the seeming double standard in police enforcement. It was inconceivable to me that the OPS was unable to perform basic enforcement of laws with their existing resources.
Under the Police Services Act – the legislation that governs policing in the province of Ontario – neither municipal Council nor the OPSB has the power to direct OPS operations. Despite limitations of the existing police governance model, the Board worked tirelessly to explore all options available within the confines of the Police Services Act to fulfill its governance responsibilities and bring about an end to the crisis.
When former Chief Sloly declared that the OPS did not have sufficient resources to provide adequate and effective policing to residents in the occupied area, I immediately called upon our Federal and Provincial governments requesting that the additional resources outlined by the Chief be urgently provided. When it became evident that the occupation was a national crisis and not simply one of municipal proportions, I pushed harder to secure resources from the provincial and federal governments. We needed to come together in a collective effort to end the occupation.
When Peter Sloly resigned as Chief of the OPS, the OPSB acted expeditiously to ensure the Executive Command was appropriately staffed to continue its response to the occupation while also providing policing services to the rest of Ottawa. The Board consulted with its advisor from the Ontario Solicitor General’s office and legal counsel to ensure an appropriate but expedited process was followed to recruit a temporary Chief of Police. The Board acted swiftly and was unanimous in its decision to hire someone on a limited term contract who had the expertise to bolster the capacity of the OPS – an action that was commended by the Ontario Solicitor General’s office.
The Board is solely responsible, under the Police Services Act, for hiring the Chief of Police in Ottawa. The Mayor’s assertion that the Board acted inappropriately by hiring a new Chief of Police without a fulsome consultation of City Council as a justification for removing me and Councillor Meehan from the board was blatant political posturing, that risked destabilizing the Board in the midst of a major crisis. The Mayor is fully aware that City Council is not meant to have a role in police board decision making under the Police Services Act, which explicitly outlines the necessary independence of police boards to prevent political interference from municipal governments. The Mayor’s actions resulted in three other Board members resigning as a matter of principle, and now has almost certainly set back the agenda of progressive policing in this City.
I acknowledge that trust and confidence in our public institutions is at a low point following the occupation. The three weeks our City was occupied traumatized residents and greatly harmed businesses in the affected area. It further damaged the already fragile trust in policing institutions and has contributed to increasing division within our communities. We must now turn our focus to community healing, and to learning from these events to make sure we are better prepared for any future public safety emergencies. The independent evaluation of the response to the occupation that City Council approved in February will be a critical piece of the post-mortem.
City Council has also approved several actions to support recovery for residents and businesses living in the downtown core, including:
- Exploring deferral of interim 2022 property taxes for affected businesses in areas impacted by the demonstration.
- Providing a total of $450,000 to affected Business Improvement Areas, Business Associations and the Ottawa Markets Corporation to support business resumption, encourage customer visitation, and highlight main street vibrancy.
- Approving a funding contribution of $50,000 to the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition to deliver an expanded City Sounds outdoor concert series in 2022 to support ongoing economic recovery in the areas impacted by the demonstration.
- Expanding no-charge transit to include service on O-Train Line 1 as of Friday, February 25 and continuing until 30 days after the City’s State of Emergency ends.
- Approving free parking at City-owned lots at 210 Gloucester Street, 234-250 Slater Street, 422 Slater Street, 70 Clarence Street, 142 Clarence Street and 110 Laurier Avenue West. The free parking would be in effect from Friday, February 25 through Thursday, March 31.
- Requesting the provincial government match the federal government’s business relief program funding to cover fixed costs and sales shortfalls during the demonstration and urging both levels of government to cover lost income of employees during this period.
I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of you who reached out with your strong condemnation of City Council’s political interference and unwavering support for me in my role as Chair of the Police Services Board. There is a lot of work ahead to recover from the occupation. I remain committed to supporting recovery and healing in our City.