Councillor Ariel Troster Triggered by the use of the Word Vagrancy at Council Meeting

Ottawa City Council’s Tuesday, June 25 meeting began with a presentation on Hydro Ottawa’s annual report. The utilities Chair, Bernie Ash and President Byrce Conrad provided a comprehensive review of the past year, including acknowledging the challenges faced in 2023—a three-month strike, multiple extreme weather events, and a turbine failure.

In highlighting key achievements, Conrad emphasized that despite the 2022 derecho (wind storm), 85 percent of the plan to improve 13 key areas recognized as strategically important has been implemented. Hydro Ottawa has hardened weak points in the grid to prevent future outages. It has also added a crisis warning system that sends users text message-based warnings for outages, which has been well received by residents. Other high points were installing over 500 electric vehicle charging stations, setting up infrastructure for the electronic bus program, and partnering with the Ottawa Hospital for a low-carbon energy system at the new Civic Campus.

Coun. Shawn Menard inquired about the progress of the building retrofitting program to make them more climate-efficient. President Conrad clarified that he couldn’t speak for the city and deferred to the City Staff, who responded that a report on climate change initiatives implemented across the city over the last five years would be released soon, providing more information on the program. When Menard asked if a motion was needed to proceed with the work on building retrofitting, City Staff assured him that it was already in the plans and a motion was unnecessary.

After the Hydro Ottawa presentation, the Marché d’Ottawa Markets held their annual meeting of members. Brian Chandler, the organization’s chair, gave a briefing highlighting some of the noteworthy changes that have taken place since last year’s meeting.

Chandler reported that the Parkdale Market generated more revenue than the ByWard Market due to “Perceived and actual safety concerns.” The Executive Director of the Byward District Authority, Zachary Dayler, spoke to safety concerns in Ottawa Markets, noting that 47 percent of Ottawa Police Service (OPS) calls filed in Ottawa Market areas were related to vagrancy, which since 2019 has not fallen within the purview of the criminal code. He stated, “A significant number of calls to OPS are for things they cannot enforce.” However, he pointed out that the new community initiatives in the ByWard Market area, including the police presence downtown and block leaders, were already making a positive impact.

Coun. Ariel Troster asked Daylor to define “What you mean by vagrancy.” Daylor responded, “That is somebody lingering on a stoop that is causing a nuisance to the enjoyment of space in a public space.” Troster retorted, “You mean people experiencing homelessness,” and went on to say, “I suggest that you don’t use the word vagrancy; it’s offensive, and it is not illegal to be homeless in our city.”

Troster further attacked Daylor for his part in a new strategy that sees the ByWard District Authority cooperating with other municipal and charitable organizations. Troster said the “Vulnerable people” were being displaced to her (Somerset) ward and asked how the ByWard District Authority was cooperating with social services to ensure they were not displaying vulnerable people “Because we are already starting to see the effects.”

Daylor responded that the word vagrancy refers to the criminal code and added that he works with community engagement teams that operate city-wide. The goal is not to displace people but to connect them with the services they need.

The meeting then turned to the annual report from the Ottawa Paramedic Service. Although ambulance wait times were down 27 percent the service has requested extra funding to hire 23 more paramedics. Coun. David Hill questioned why the new hires are necessary, given the improvements in wait times. Head of the paramedic service, Pierre Poirier, remarked that the response times will continue to improve with new staff. Still, he noted that certain areas that affect the paramedic service performance, like patient handover to hospitals, are a provincial matter subject to hospital staffing. He stated that hospital handovers will continue to impact the metrics of the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

City Council is scheduled to meet again on July 10 of next month on the regularly scheduled Wednesday.