Citizens express frustration over proposed Police Services Board By-law amendments.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) met Monday, January 23, for its first publicly scheduled meeting of 2023. The meeting was chaired by Suzanne Valiquet, with Councillors Cathy Curry, Marty Carr, and Mayor Mark Suttcliffe participating.

The OPSB meeting began with the delegate participation segment, where members of the public address the board. Sam Hersh, head of the activist group Horizon Ottawa made a long speech about perceived police complacency during the Freedom Convoy, where he stated the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) “left citizens to organize and protect themselves” while the “far-right” took over downtown Ottawa.

Hersh expressed how the citizens of Ottawa had lost trust in their police and then hammered the recently proposed By-law amendments regarding public participation at the OPSB, which he described as an attack on activism.

According to Hersh, limiting delegate time and the number of delegates who can speak is an attack on public expression, a move that runs counter to regaining the public’s trust. In contrast, he stated that the Toronto Police Service has no limits on the number of public commentators.

The Ottawa People’s Commission (OPC) is conducting its own grass-roots inquiry into the Freedom Convoy, with a final report scheduled for release in March 2023. Provincially appointed board member Salim Fakirani asked Hersh about the Centretown Community Health Centre’s initiative and recommended they present their finding at an upcoming OPSB meeting.

Other delegates echoed Hersh’s concerns about limiting public access to the OPSB. Andrea Chandler commented that it is irresponsible for the OPSB to implement the changes before the Emergency Powers Act report has been released; Calvin Climie stated that the changes amounted to “an erosion of democracy;” and Inez Hillel noted that members of the board seldom comment when delegates do appear, and the proposed By-law show the contempt of the Police Services leadership towards the general public. The delegates’ input reinforced the loss of public trust in the OPS.   

Councillor Marty Carr was called out for her apparent lack of concern for the public participation portion of the meeting. The Councillor for Ward 18 Alta Vista was eating a sandwich on camera. Ironically, Councillor Carr was the only board member to voice her concern for the proposed By-law amendment, calling the measures “restrictive.” Carr stated that a new community appointee would soon join the board; therefore, now was not the time to pass “overly restrictive” regulations.

The proposed new By-law dictates that delegates make their presentation between 12 – 1 p.m. on the day of the OPSB meeting to a smaller four-member group of board members. Despite the inconvenient time and the additional restrictions that appear like a bad public relation move designed to limit public participation, Ward 4 Kanata North Councillor Cathy Curry and Salim Fakirani supported the proposed measures saying that the shift to noon was meant to be more inclusive.

Councillor Curry stated that the board does not have the time for hours of delegates and that “people become exhausted.” She told Councillor Carr to “be careful what you wish for” and said items are often rushed due to “very long delegations.”

After the delegates spoke, newly appointed Chief of Police Eric Stubbs talked about the state of the OPS. Stubbs noted that police interactions and calls were up in 2022. He also noted that more sophisticated forms of crime, such as cybercrime, are becoming increasingly prevalent and that the OPS needs to invest more to counter them. Stubbs added that a “heavy lift” will be required when American President Joe Biden visits in March.

The discussion then moved to the building of a new police station in Barrhaven, slated to cost $178 million. The board was unanimous in its support for the station.

The meeting wrapped up with the board authorizing the purchase of new tasers, with Councillor Curry voicing concern over the cost versus the short lifespan of the units.

The Police Services Board is scheduled to meet again in February.