A couple of weeks ago, something sad, tragic happened and it is dividing Ottawa. The death of Abdirahman Abdi is dividing the city into to those that want change now and those that are willing to wait to see what change is required because of the sad and tragic event as a result of the investigation.
The true action to make any course corrections will not happen for some time and it will not happen at the hands of the Mayor of Ottawa or the City’s Chief of Police. The only action that can dictate how and what the changes are going to be, lie in the hands of the Provincial government.
Earlier this year the Ontario government under the watchful eye of then Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi public consultations (https://www.ontario.ca/page/police-police-services-and-community-safety?_ga=1.237265224.936783100.1470845902) took place on the future of policing in this province. I attended two of these consultations, one in Toronto in one here in Ottawa. From what I heard in both sessions, policing in Ontario is both good and bad. One city thought policing was in need of an overhaul and the other thought it was going in the right direction. Can you wager a guess which city went one way and which went the other?
The Toronto meeting had room for 120 people, it was barely 60% to capacity and of that 60%, 20% were government types that wanted to hear what the public thought. There were non-profit organizations in attendance, professional organizations were there and many individuals from the community. There were NO recognized Police or Police Union representatives in attendance and no public figures (except Naqvi). Those that did speak, spoke loudly against police actions and how there is lack of understanding by police.
In Ottawa, there were members of the public, community individuals, representatives from the Police Association, health officials, some private security guards and one person who is an OC Transpo Constable. I estimate that 100 people attended the meeting, but surprising me was the number of people that were part of the Ottawa Police Services Community Services (COMPAC), civilian members of the Ottawa Police Services. The many representatives from COMPAC seemed to take over the meeting often repeating the virtues of COMPAC, especially when concerns about policing in Ottawa were raised. The problem with COMPAC promoting what they do is many of those that are concerned about the police are also fearful of them and would not find going to a COMPAC representative as an alternative.
Between the two sessions, the common theme was how to have police respond to calls that are a result of people suffering from mental illness. This alone not only causes the public, but also the Police the greatest frustration. There is a lack of knowledge of how anyone can handle these calls and ensure that no one is harmed and that anyone suffering from mental illness does not harm themselves, others or suffer from others because of how they may react in a stressful situation.
The issue for consideration is whether public input will have its role in the final recommendations that will come out of these consultations. Which meetings will have greater weighting – the Toronto-type sessions or meetings that resembled what I heard in Ottawa?
All we can do now is wait for the new Community Safety Minister Orazietti to release the report from the consultations and look for the recommendations. While we wait for that, my follow up to this post will provide more information on what the province was consulting on, specifically what questions were asked in the public meetings. It may give some light into the direction the government wants to go with building safer communities.
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