Council supports plan to consult public on new policing strategy for mental health calls

OTTAWA — Ottawa City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to support the Ottawa Police Services Board and the Ottawa Police Service in addressing mental health calls.

A motion from Coun. Shawn Menard, seconded by Coun. Catherine McKenney calls on council to support the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) in their plan to “develop a comprehensive mental health strategy, to be implemented over the course of the next three years.”

The motion says the OPSB and the OPS’s stated goals are to work with community stakeholders, such as Ottawa Public Health, Crime Prevention Ottawa, community and social services agencies, housing and homelessness advocates, with representation from Black, Indigenous and racialized groups.

The motion will also go before a future police services board meeting for public consultation. A special meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board is scheduled for Nov. 4, with the next meeting to be held on Nov. 23.

“We need to be open to listening to the experts, to organizations and to individuals in this community so that we can have a truly made in ottawa solution…the Police Services Board is ready to adjust the sails, we are ready to move forward and make a huge difference,” said councillor and chair of the Ottawa Police Services board Diane Deans. 

Speaking to the motion, Coun. Rawlson King said he was pleased to support it.

“At the police services board meeting held just this Monday, Chief Sloly acknowledged that a different model is required to transition current crisis response options to primarily involve professional mental health practitioners in front-line response,” King said. “I believe that the best type of response de-tasks sworn officers and the police service from being the key responders. Such an approach would shift mental health crisis response to primarily involve professionals that can better assist individuals experiencing an addiction or mental health crisis.”

The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition called the unanimous approval of the motion a good first step. 

“This is a win for all the community members and the movements that have worked so hard for this,” said member William Felepchuk. “We need to keep working hard and keep putting pressure on our city government and on the police services to make sure this is not a good motion today that gets swept under the rug but that real systemic and substantive change takes place as a result of these public hearings and as a result of future efforts of the Police Services Board and city council.”

OPSB chair Deans applauded the motion on Twitter after it passed.

Menard also celebrated the passage of the motion online.

On Monday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly addressed the OPSB and spoke about the impact of the trial and acquittal of Const. Daniel Montsion in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.

“No one can ever accept the loss of life in a situation like this, especially of a vulnerable citizen experiencing a mental health crisis. None of us, citizen or police, ever want to find ourselves in a situation like the one that took place on July 24, 2016,” Sloly said. “We are listening, learning and changing. We will support our service members and our community members through these changes.”

Coun. McKenney, who brought forward the motion with Coun. Menard, said, “It’s gonna take time and it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to take money and I think we also have to recognize that as a city we have not kept up our part of the bargain in terms of funding community and social services.”

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