Two Ottawa city councillors want the public to weigh in on possible alternatives to police when responding to calls involving mental health or addictions situations that don't involve weapons or violence.
The motion, put forward by Capital Coun. Shawn Menard and seconded by Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, asks the Ottawa Police Services Board to lead the consultations on what they call a "civilian non-police led community response mechanism." It will be on the council agenda on Oct. 28.
McKenney said public consultations will determine what that alternative looks like, but said the focus of the "made-in-Ottawa model" must be on mental health support and de-escalation.
They may be caus.ing some disturbance, but it's not a police response that we need. It's a social response. - Coun. Catherine McKenney
"The one thing that cuts across everything is a non-police-led response to matters of mental health, poverty, addictions, homelessness. That, in the end, is what the community is asking for," McKenney said.
McKenney used the example of homeless people gathering in Dundonald Park during the pandemic lockdown.
"They may be causing some disturbance, but it's not a police response that we need. It's a social response," McKenney said.
McKenney and Menard have been circulating a petition to gather support for the motion in the aftermath of Tuesday's acquittal of Const. Daniel Montsion, who had been charged in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.
The Abdi family and their supporters are calling for systemic changes to how people with mental health issues are dealt with by police.
"People want change. People want change to how we're policed. They want change to how we respond to poverty, how we respond to mental illness, how we respond to homelessness," McKenney said.
Not a cure-all
While the motion mentions anti-Black racism and systemic racism, McKenney said removing police from the equation won't be a cure-all.
"This is not going to eliminate systemic racism and discrimination. But in the spirit and context of reconciliation and admitting to systemic racism across the board, this is an important piece."
McKenney said there's been no discussion yet with Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the police services board, about the proposed motion.
In an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday, Deans said the board is responding to community demands for change.
"We are absolutely steadfast in our determination that change is coming," she said "You will hear very soon about a new mental health protocol, a new mental health response that we will be initiating."
Sen. Vern White, a former Ottawa police chief, said he supports the idea of exploring alternatives to armed police response.
"The police most often aren't the right people to deal with it, but yet we're still sending them to deal with it and it absolutely has to change," White said.
However, White cautions police might still need to get involved in some calls.
"I think initially at least, we will see mental health workers continue to ask for support and backup from police unless they know the individual they're going to meet," he said.
A previous motion by Menard and McKenney to reallocate part of an increase to the Ottawa Police Service's annual budget to Ottawa Public Health was defeated 20-4.