Supporting Chief Sloly’s mandate to reform the Ottawa Police

By Jim Watson

Having served on the Ottawa Police Services Board over the last year, I had the privilege of backing significant progress towards reform and countless new operational ways of supporting people in crisis, including new sensitivity to people with mental-health issues and a formal recognition of the impact race plays in these interactions.

I have witnessed a new openness and willingness to tackle these issues within the Ottawa Police Service and a directness and level of honesty to discuss these issues across police ranks.

Since he was sworn in a year and a half ago, Chief Peter Sloly and his team at the Ottawa Police have been playing a key role in rebuilding relationships and trust within our racialized communities – and that starts with the makeup of our police service itself. I’m proud that this commitment to diversity is reflected in the service’s recent graduating class of 96 recruits, which included 32 women, 31 racialized men and three Indigenous people.

Additionally, Chief Sloly has reinstated the Neighbourhood Policing Program, which helps our officers forge lasting and meaningful relationships with residents and community partners in at-risk neighbourhoods.

In 2019, three Neighbourhood Resource Teams were deployed in Vanier/Overbrook, Heron Gate/South Ottawa and Carlington/Caldwell. Due to their success, the program was expanded to three more neighbourhoods last year: the ByWard Market/Lowertown in May and Centretown and Bayshore in the fall.  Under this model, the officers are dedicated exclusively to their assigned neighbourhoods for a minimum of two years. They work with local residents, schools, not-for-profit organizations, business associations and city staff to better understand and address crime and its underlying socio-economic issues.

Adequate mental-health response as well as anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism training are at the core of these programs. At the Ottawa Police Services Board in January, Chief Sloly tabled a plan to engage with the community on how OPS can better support the safety and well-being of residents with mental-health challenges, including how officers respond to people in mental-health crisis.

I support the work of Chief Sloly as he works to reform and bring about change within the Ottawa Police Service. If we remain committed and steadfast in our resolve, we can create an inclusive and responsive police service that can better serve all residents.

Construction of stage 2 of the LRT is underway.   Photo: City of Ottawa

New year, fresh start

By Jim Watson

2020 was quite the year. We turned the page on a new decade, learning from past challenges and building on our many successes as a city. These last 12 months have been, without a doubt, one of the most disruptive periods in our city’s history. Life as we knew it changed in the blink of an eye as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down cities across the world, causing an unprecedented economic decline and social uncertainty. Individuals were confined to their homes, and businesses were forced to close their doors without knowing what the future held.

Despite the financial and mental toll that the pandemic has taken on our residents, we have been blessed to witness some incredible acts of kindness – hundreds of fundraisers for COVID relief efforts, community groups rallying together to make masks for their neighbours and young children donating the money in their piggy banks to the Food Bank to feed those less fortunate.

It was clear that the people of Ottawa were ready to take on this pandemic and help their fellow residents get through it as well. As mayor, I have remained committed to moving forward on key city-building projects, notably:

Construction is underway for Stage 2 of our light rail system;

We have laid the foundations to extend LRT to Barrhaven, Kanata and Stittsville as part of Stage 3 LRT

Elgin Street was revitalized ahead of schedule;

We worked with our partners in healthcare to reduce paramedic wait times and secure funding for a new 40-bed unit at the Civic Hospital;

We updated our Housing and Homelessness Plan with tangible goals and outcomes;

Our Official Plan is underway to guide how the city will grow and improve over the next 30 years;

The Combined Sewage and Storage Tunnel is now operational, a major investment to protect the Ottawa River for future generations; and

We are forging ahead with a plan for a sustainable design for a net zero carbon Central Library.

While the year ahead will undoubtedly be another major test for the people of Ottawa, I am confident that we will continue to limit the spread of the virus in our community while finding ways to innovate and make progress to come out of this stronger than ever.

With the vaccine rollout now underway, there is cause for much optimism as we are one step closer to the return of normalcy in our daily lives. I’m confident that in a year from now, we will once again enjoy the activities we cherish while having learned some important lessons on resilience and supporting each other through the pandemic.

I offer to all of you a year 2021 full of health, love and happiness.

City taking concrete action against racism

By Jim Watson

In the past year, we have not only been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have also seen the issues of racism and the disproportionate impacts of systemic inequity come into sharp focus, both at home and abroad.

The existence and complexity of systemic discrimination must be acknowledged by our institutions as well as by us as individuals if we are going to effectively address these issues head on. It starts with stating uncomfortable truths. Indigenous, Black, Asian and other racialized populations in Ottawa have disproportionately been, and continue to be, the victims of violence, racist graffiti, racial slurs, exclusion from activities and employment opportunities and discrimination in the workplace.

This can only end with sustained, concrete action. Municipalities have a role to play, and that is why I supported the creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. Under the leadership of Councillor Rawlson King, who has become the first Council Liaison for Anti-Racism and Ethnocultural Relations Initiatives, we are listening and acknowledging issues.

I am also pleased that Yusra Osman was hired as the city’s first Anti-Racism Specialist to advance this work from within and across departments. I have every confidence that Ms. Osman will advance the important work needed, including work that has been underway through the Somali Community Table since 2016.

The secretariat will help ensure that an anti-racist lens is applied to city policies, with an emphasis on six priority areas: employment equity, equity in governance, housing, economic development, health outcomes and youth development.

Since the establishment of the secretariat last year, some of the progress made by the city includes:

Initiating the creation of an Anti-Racism Advisory Table;

Launching a public awareness social media campaign to condemn anti-Asian racism;

Launching the gender and race equity data baseline study together with the Women and Gender Equity Specialist; and

Creating the “Coping with Racial Stress” pilot project for youth with the Neighbourhood Ambassador Program.

As mayor of Ottawa, I remain committed to making our city a better place to live for all residents. Change is necessary in all our public service institutions. If we remain steadfast in our resolve, we can create a more inclusive and responsive community that is welcoming for all residents. Only together can we build a more equitable community for all residents of Ottawa.

For more information about the Anti-Racism Secretariat, please visit: www.engage.ottawa.ca/anti-racism-and-ethnocultural-relations-initiatives.

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