Statement on the Illegal Occupation

Councillor Rawlson King has made a statement concerning the apparent end of the illegal occupation.

Ottawa is only beginning to recover from countless disruptions that affected the downtown core over the past month.  All governments have ended states of emergency after the unprecedented police action undertaken this week to end the illegal occupation in the downtown core and multiple encampment sites.

From the outset of the protest-cum-occupation, I strongly indicated that protestors needed to leave the City and not breach the peace.  I had heard many concerns regarding the hateful and racist acts and displays related to the occupation, and as a result I worked with both community groups and Council in my capacity as Council Liaison for Anti-Racism and Ethnocultural Relations Initiatives to denounce and condemn the unconscionable extremism, racism, intolerance, and xenophobia that was displayed during the illegal occupation. 

Working with municipal, provincial, and federal colleagues, I personally called upon both the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada to provide all necessary financial and logistical supports required to bring the illegal occupation to an end and allow the City of Ottawa to return to normal.

As residents may know, as a municipal elected official I have no powers to legally prevent demonstrations or give operational direction to the Police Service. Enforcement during the illegal protests was the sole responsibility of the Police Service. 

As your Ward Councillor however, I did work with business organizations and residents in our Ward to limit the negative impact of the encampment located on Coventry Road, which occurred due to the police decision to redirect overflow truck traffic to the site.  The efforts of the community, business groups, along with my office, helped provide enough intelligence for the Police Service to intervene several times at that encampment site and ultimately clear the location of illegal occupiers.

As a previous member of Police Services Board, I and colleagues also worked tirelessly throughout the crisis to marshal additional resources from senior levels of government and encourage police action.  As a Police Board member, I pointedly asked the Police Command about the inadequate police response and about the potential of police complicity during the illegal protest.  I also asked multiple times for the Police Command to produce a plan to end the illegal occupation and emphasized the need for the immediate implementation of a plan.  I asked whether the Police Service had charged unlawful protestors with unlawful assembly.  I asked why the Police Service did not engage in basic policing functions, or "probative enforcement actions" that were concurrent with the resources it had available.  I asked the Police Service when encampments and downtown intersections would be cleared.

I asked questions concerning the Police's flawed legal opinions surrounding the establishment of roadblocks and keeping trucks out of the downtown core. Importantly, the Board asked for the necessary resources from senior levels of government so that the Police Service could undertake the type of joint operations with the OPP, RCMP and other police reinforcements from across the country which ultimately brought the illegal occupation to its conclusion.

Because the Board was fulfilling its oversight duties and seeking the proper provision of resources as defined by the Police Service Act, I took the Mayor's allegation that the Ottawa Police Service Board had not been effective in its oversight function to be highly disingenuous and insulting to my colleagues, who had also been working tirelessly to attempt to end this occupation within our scope of responsibilities.

As a Board, we undertook oversight in the strongest way: We held multiple public and in camera meetings where we encouraged the Police Command to utilize all its resources, its powers and duties to enforce the law.  As the Mayor knows, the responsibilities for operational matters are ultimately under the full authority of the Chief of Police. The Mayor also knows that the Police Service Board is accountable to the Province and not to City Council. With the resignation of the Chief, the Police Services Board moved quickly to fulfill its primarily responsibility under the Police Services Act, which was to rapidly hire a temporary Interim Chief to bolster a depleted Police Command, in order to end the crisis in an expeditious manner.  As we undertook our responsibilities, the Board verified its decisions with the Board's independent legal counsel, the Board's solicitor, and its advisor from the Ministry of the Solicitor General, to ensure it was acting in its proper line of authority.

To allege that the Board did not exercise its proper authority, as a pretext to dismantle the Police Board at Council, demonstrated a high level of political cynicism by the Mayor and also demonstrated the Mayor's willingness to make public safety into a wedge issue, motivated by personal animus against political adversaries. 

It is ironic that while the Mayor was negotiating with illegal occupiers, the Board was working diligently to encourage police action, to affect arrests to bring the illegal occupation to a rapid conclusion, with a aim for the criminal justice system to bring charges, prosecutions, convictions, and punishment for those responsible. Due to the Mayor's cynical political view, as well as our divergent views on the rule of law, and innovative and progressive police governance (as he was not supportive of police reform I championed during the last budget process), I tendered my resignation from the Board.

Despite my resignation from the Police Board, I acknowledge their will be much work that will need to be undertaken concerning the creation of new proactive measures to protect the City's residents from future harm and rebuild confidence in our democratic institutions.  As a consequence, I will continue to work with colleagues to improve governance structures as well as emergency response and preparedness at Council over the next several months.

I will also continue to work on legislation at Council to respond the occupation and contribute to the City's social and economic recovery.  At Council I introduced a successful motion seeking permission from the Province to recover demonstration-related policing costs from any persons deemed responsible for such costs.  I also moved an additional successful motion asking the Province to revoke the use of the provincial Staycation Tax Credit so that so-called "protest tourists" do not take advantage of the tax break. 

As we recover, I worked with Council colleagues this week to consider deferring interim tax payments for businesses impacted by the occupation.  I also supported initiatives that would provide additional funds to downtown-area business improvement associations (BIAs), including the Vanier BIA which represents Beechwood Avenue, Montreal Road and McArthur Avenue, to jumpstart economic recovery. We know that over 40 percent of businesses in the affected areas by the protest closed due to concerns and obstructions arising during the protest, and over 75 percent of businesses lost revenue directly because of the illegal occupation.  The economic impact of the illegal occupation over the past four weeks is estimated at $200 million in Ottawa and the reputational damage due to the impact of the protest is incalculable. 

Due to the overwhelming challenges that businesses have been experiencing over the course of the pandemic, it is important that the City do everything within its power to reinvigorate these businesses.  That's why I encourage you to come together to support Ottawa’s small businesses, restaurants, tourism operators, and special events. 

It will also be important to provide residents with the appropriate community care and mental health supports to address the fallout of those who were terrorized by protestors weeks on end.  Therefore, I will be personally working with community members in Overbrook to connect residents who have been affected by both the protests and the pandemic to social and community care services.

Despite these efforts, I am the first to acknowledge that government’s first obligation is to keep people safe and that over the past month our government failed.  I will work to ensure we successfully address shortcomings concerning public safety and emergency preparedness to protect communities and our most vulnerable residents.

 

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