By Robin Browne

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) continues to respond to criticisms of its restrictions on public participation by imposing even more. In theory the board exists to provide democratic public oversight over the Ottawa police. In practice, they seem determined to shut out critical public voices.

We’ve previously chronicled the “Opacity and Chaos at the Ottawa Police Services Board” around the time of the convoy in February 2022. As Morgana Adby traced in that article, shortly before the convoy protesters were finally cleared from Ottawa’s downtown (Feb. 21), Ottawa’s first Black police chief, Peter Sloly, resigned (Feb. 15), and a wild city council meeting (Feb 16) saw the removal of police board chair Diane Deans and the resignation of several board members in protest. This dramatic “coup” interrupted that board’s attempt to hire a new interim chief. 

Adby also covered the very public debate over limits on public delegations to the board between Deans and community activist Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa. This debate can be traced back to a November 2020 OPSB meeting. Nearly a hundred public delegates spoke — with many demanding the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) be defunded, and several raising concerns about the board policy of not allowing public delegates to ask questions of board members. 

Former West Carleton-March city councillor Eli El-Chantiry Illustration: Crystal Yung

Then in June 2021, the board hired two consulting firms — Public Affairs and Community Engagement (PACE) and Middle Ground Policy Research — to write a report, delivered in October 2021, which recommended a separate space for the OPSB to deliberate with residents. My group, the 613-819 Black Hub, joined others in saying the separate roundtables would become just another committee that could be ignored at the whim of the OSPB. The report was apparently shelved following the board restructuring.

This restructuring meant Deans was replaced as board chair by former West Carleton-March city councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who previously held the position until 2018. El-Chantiry oversaw police budget increases all twelve years he served as chair. One of El-Chantiry’s first actions as chair in 2022 was to cancel the Feb. 28 meeting that would have been the first opportunity for the public to ask questions about the convoy occupation. 

Neither El-Chantiry nor the board wanted public delegates to critique board or OPS members — and they would do almost anything to ensure that.

Then, at the board’s April 25 meeting, as part of the chair’s instructions to public delegates, El-Chantiry said delegates “must refrain from making allegations” against board or OPS members. He didn’t say “unfounded” allegations, he said “allegations.” Future actions by him and the board would indicate that what he really meant was neither he nor the board wanted public delegates to critique board or OPS members — and they would do almost anything to ensure that. 

What follows is a timeline of what happened next in the board’s clampdown on public feedback.

May 30, 2022 – Following a recommendation from the board Human Resources Committee (chaired at the time by current board chair Suzanne Valiquet), the board approved a $76,000 contract for Hefid Solutions to lead the public consultations to hire a new police chief. The 613-819 Black Hub had raised concerns about conflicts of interest and Hefid’s competence, but Valiquet stood behind Hefid completely. She did this despite clear evidence of Hefid’s incompetence on the company’s own website (check out the cringe-worthy section on “our values”) and despite information the hub presented indicating that Hefid Solutions owner Hector Addison could soon be charged with forgery.

Interim board chair, Suzanne Valiquet Illustration: Crystal Yung

June 6, 2022 – I presented the hub’s concerns regarding Hefid Solutions to the Crime Prevention Ottawa (CPO) board that Diane Deans chaired, which also had OPS Deputy Chief Steve Bell as a member. (Bell later oversaw the clearing of downtown Ottawa as Interim Chief after Sloly resigned.) In 2021, CPO’s board had awarded Hefid Solutions a $50,000 contract to “refresh” CPO’s Ottawa Street Violence and Gang Strategy.

Aug. 26, 2022 – The 613-819 Black Hub  successfully got Hefid Solutions owner Hector Addison charged with forgery after filing a private prosecution. (A private prosecution is a court-run process whereby any citizen can bring criminal charges against another person without a police investigation.) 

Addison was charged with forging the signature of an executive of a local community health centre where Addison used to work. The hub first filed a report with the Ottawa police asking them to charge Addison. Yet the police said they couldn’t charge someone with forgery under the Criminal Code if there was no proof of any benefit being gained — a completely false claim.

Oct. 21, 2022OPSB announced they hired Eric Stubbs as the new police chief. Stubbs led the B.C. RCMP’s operation to violently remove Wet’suwet’en land defenders blocking pipeline construction on their land. (See Andy Crosby’s “Wet’suwet’en Stand Strong Against Pipeline” for details and analysis on this. ) The board announced Stubbs’ hiring three days before the municipal election — despite calls to delay hiring a new chief until after the election so the new board and council could make the decision.

New police chief, Eric Stubbs Illustration: Crystal Yung

Oct. 24, 2022 – In the Ottawa election, Mark Sutcliffe — who campaigned on increasing the police budget, including building a new station in the Byward Market — was elected, easily defeating former councillor Catherine McKenney.

Nov. 30, 2022  – Activists, including myself, engaged in civil disobedience at the November board meeting to protest everything I’ve mentioned so far. We refused to leave until the board members answered questions we had. The board adjourned the meeting early.

Dec. 19, 2022 – The board cancelled its December meeting, providing no reason.

Jan. 23, 2023 – The board held its January meeting in a virtual-only capacity, as it has every meeting since.

Feb. 27, 2023 – The board approved public delegation restrictions and a $15 million increase to the police budget bringing it to $401 million, including $500,000 for the budget item “dry cleaning”. The public delegation restrictions include:

    • limiting delegations to one hour for all delegations combined (there was no limit before)
    • cutting delegations to 3 minutes if more than 12 people register to speak during the hour
    • prioritizing delegates who haven’t spoken in the last three months (which disproportionately affects myself and other activists who speak regularly)
    • requiring delegates to submit their comments in writing beforehand (previously delegates only had to provide the topic they would speak on).

The board is also requiring delegates to provide our remarks word-for-word – even though the motion they passed doesn’t say that. The board says they brought in the requirement for people to submit their delegations in writing prior to the meeting so board members can be better prepared. As the board members almost never ask questions of delegates critical of the board and the OPS — and 99% are critical, in my experience — it will be telling to see how many questions they ask at meetings going forward.

During the discussion of the motion, Councillor Marty Carr cited how the Peel Police Services Board limits delegations on the same matter to once a year. Councillor Cathy Curry responded that it would be great to limit delegates to speaking once a year, saying “those who come here every month and say the same thing. That’s not helpful.”

March 1, 2023 – Activists interrupted the Ottawa City Council meeting where council was to vote on the police budget. Following the meeting, the city issued myself and another activist notices saying we were banned from Ottawa City Hall for a year. We both immediately successfully challenged the ban, though, getting it reduced to only the city council chamber. 

Council approved the $15 million police budget increase as the board recommended. A motion by Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard to amend the police budget and spend $500,000 of police funding to set up a specialized team to respond to mental health calls was defeated 14-10.

The 613-819 Black Hub is currently exploring suing the OPSB for its attacks on public delegations, claiming the restrictions violate human rights law by unfairly impacting certain groups. 

Everyone should be concerned about the board’s attack on public participation —  which is a key democratic principle and right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *