A public meeting about the Ottawa police budget Monday was overtaken by criticism of the weekend arrest of protesters calling for justice for Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in Ottawa.
Almost 100 people signed up to speak to the Ottawa Police Services Board about the 2021 police budget.
Nearly all of the registered speakers called for the police budget to be frozen and for the proposed $13.2 million increase for the upcoming year to be reallocated to social services.
Several people, some who were at this weekend's protest encampment at Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street, condemned the early morning arrests of demonstrators — even accusing police Chief Peter Sloly of deception when he described the early morning arrests as having involved ample warning and no injuries.
Twelve people were charged with mischief.
Ifrah Yusuf, co-chair of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, said the space created by protesters calling for an end to systemic racism was "destroyed" by police after protesters were told they would not be arrested.
"They have caused deep harm, trauma and have set the relationship back many years in the space of one night by way of a reckless and violent decision," she said.
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Robin Browne, co-founder of 613-819 Black Hub, said the disruption of the protest after an agreement to meet with city officials was one factor that led the group to reconsider its conditional endorsement of the 2021 budget.
"That the police went ahead and removed the protesters just hours before the meeting is an act of bad faith," Browne said.
"Charging 12 protesters with mischief contradicts the [police service's] frequent claim that they want to 'improve community relations' as it seems more like an intimidation tactic."
Browne said the group is also concerned with the slow pace of other priorities such as improving the police's mental health response and hiring of racialized officers.
Handling of ceremonial objects
There was particular anger over the treatment of sacred medicines and ceremonial objects belonging to Indigenous participants in the protest.
Victoria Marchand, an Anishinaabe from Kitigan Zibi who participated in the protest, said protesters were given just 10 minutes of warning before arrests began.
"Not only did we just wake up but we had tents, drums, medicines, and what happened to those? There were no warnings. The care the board talks about for our confiscated ceremonial objects is a complete and utter lie," Marchand said.
She said the ceremonial objects and medicines had to be recovered from a municipal yard on Hurdman Road, some left under a tarp.
Sloly acknowledged Monday that "mistakes were made" in the handling of those objects, though in his opening remarks he said efforts were made to reach Indigenous organizations for advice on the proper handling of ceremonial objects.
He said the police need to improve how they handle similar situations.
Vote planned Tuesday
The meeting lasted about eight hours, with several tense exchanges.
Coun. Diane Deans, the board's chair, cut some public delegations short when she said they were veering away from the budget or included possible criminal allegations that police could not answer during a city meeting.
This led to pushback from several speakers who accused Deans of censorship and denying the experience of people who experienced alleged wrongdoing at the hands of police.
The meeting concluded with a recess and will reconvene for a vote Tuesday. Some board members, including Deans, have said they will support the proposed budget.