The Ottawa Police Services Board has approved a controversial contract with volunteer members of the city force's own community equity council (CEC) — heralding it as the first community engagement process for the board that will be facilitated by racialized leaders.
The decision comes after criticism from community advocates and broader questions about how a team composed of volunteer members of an Ottawa Police Service (OPS) group to strengthen relationships between police and racialized groups can now get paid to bring community members to the table.
Board chair Coun. Eli El-Chantiry on Monday called it an "added benefit" that the team was made up of some CEC members.
While CEC members are unpaid and do not accept honorariums for the work they undertake in that role, this is now the second public contract with ties to the police force that Hefid Solutions has received. The private company is run by CEC member Hector Addison. Two other members of his six-person Hefid team sit on the council.
Addison previously told CBC News he didn't believe there was a conflict in vying for the contract. On Monday, he emphasized to the police board how being dedicated volunteers made his team better positioned to carry out the consultation work.
Board members asked Addison about relevant consulting work, his methodology for weighting responses, whether he internally had the expertise to handle the complexity of an online questionnaire and about his team's relationship with police.
Team made up of 'community builders,' board told
Addison said his team is made up of "community builders" with professional degrees, for whom community engagement was "second nature."
"My team has incredible experience and the reason why I selected some of the folks that sit on the table of the community equity council, which some people are indicating raises a conflict of interest in the first place, is that they are volunteers. These are community builders. These are people who are using their own private time, spending it for the benefit of the community."
Community equity council members aren't screaming for change, he said, but deciding to sit at the table with police and make that progress, giving up hours of their time to do so for free.
"If these people are worthy enough to give their advice and consultation for free, why can't we hire them for work that relates to community engagement?"
El-Chantiry asked Interim Chief Steve Bell — who is co-chair of the CEC, has applied to be chief of police before and is expected to do so again in the next competition — to explain the relationship between the service and CEC.
Bell told the board the CEC provides "guidance, direction, and advice to the police service on matters of policy, strategy, operations and community relations." But that members' responsibilities are to their respective communities, not the service.
"There's just good strong volunteerism and a desire to see Ottawa have better, more progressive policing services," Bell said.
Sahada Alolo, the council's other co-chair who is also on the Hefid team, addressed the board in her capacity as CEC co-chair on another agenda item.
"I just wanted to state that I am really happy that we got an opportunity for the role of CEC to be explained a little bit further because in the past few weeks I've been very offended to see in the news that we actually do get paid for the work that we do. So I just wanted to clarify that and I appreciate that clarification here," Alolo said before addressing race data on police use of force.
Hefid will design and execute a community consultation plan that would include consulting a target of at least 150 people through town halls, interviews and a larger online survey, with its final report going back to the recruiting firm in just weeks. Ultimately, the community consultations that Hefid runs will inform the job descriptions crafted for the service's next top cops.
Addison previously told CBC the total value of the proposed recruiting contract to Hefid is worth $54,000, which included about $7,500 in honorariums to prospective consultation participants. In fact, according to police board documents, Hefid has estimated the total costs at $76,500 before taxes.