FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OTTAWA - With the risk of COVID and other respiratory diseases heightening, Horizon Ottawa calls on the Ottawa Police Services Board to renew the option for public delegates to speak at meetings virtually with the departure of former Chair Eli El-Chantiry and new incoming council and Police Board members.
Upon becoming Chair in the midst of the Ottawa occupation, now-former councillor, Eli El-Chantiry, made the decision to hold meetings solely in-person. His cited reasons were “a lack of staff capacity,” despite City Council and every other committee meeting operating either fully virtually or in a hybrid capacity. The decision came on the heels of several other undemocratic moves in order to silence dissent over Ottawa Police inaction during the occupation.
“We are asking the incoming council, Police Services Board, and new mayor, as a show of good faith and attempt to regain community trust, to make meetings more accessible and give residents the option to attend virtually as well as in-person,” said Sam Hersh, a Board member of Horizon Ottawa. “Continuing to hold meetings solely in-person excludes those who cannot attend for health reasons, or who do not feel comfortable doing so, and hinders attempts to raise accountability.”
Horizon Ottawa also highlights that the pandemic and the spread of other respiratory illnesses have heightened the risk that in-person meetings would cause for disabled and immunocompromised residents in particular, therefore this decision is a breach of the Board’s own Accessibility Policy.
The policy states that the Board “is committed to meeting the accessibility needs of people with disabilities in a timely and proactive manner and will use reasonable efforts to provide equitable access to programs, services, goods and facilities provided by the Board.”
Virtual meetings have been pivotal in increasing public participation at meetings throughout the city, making it easier for residents across Ottawa to attend, and this is especially true of the OPSB meetings that dozens of delegates attend regularly. Police boards in other cities have recognized this and maintain a virtual component to their meetings, such as the City of Winnipeg, whose police board has been meeting both virtually and in-person l since the Summer.
“If Mayor Sutcliffe and the Board hope to start a new chapter with the community in regards to the Ottawa Police, this would be an essential first step” said Hersh. “This is a very simple and easy way to make meetings more accessible and safe for all residents who wish to attend.”
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