January 23 2017 – Justice for Abdirahman Coalition Presentation to the Ottawa Police Service Board Meeting

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Good evening, thank you for having us. My name is Dahabo Ahmed-Omar, and I member of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition. Abdirahman Abdi died on July 24th 2016 during a violent incident involving two Ottawa Police Service officers. The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition is a group created within days of Abdirahman’s death representing a cross section of the Somali community and supported by wider network of local and national advocacy groups. Our group’s objectives are to obtain greater transparency, challenge racial inequity, call for greater support for mental health needs and It is under these stated objectives that we are before you this evening.

The incident of July 24th has sparked great interest in many citizens of Ottawa regarding policing and has opened dialogue between and across various stakeholders. Tomorrow marks 6 months since this incident and the subsequent loss of Abdirahman. In these last six month this city has had to take a good hard look at itself and the Ottawa Police Service has faced some challenging questions around its accountability to the public.

Real and meaningful change can only begin when we accept that there is a problem – but we must also name that problem. We believe the problem is racism. Now, by no means are we claiming that the OPS is a racist organization. No it is not. We do however feel that there are elements of racism – which manifest by way of actions of some and the inactions of the organization. This being said, we have been in discussion with the Chief and we are at the table working with his staff and do believe that there is sincerity. While we recognize that some work is underway in terms of outreach and engagement, and while we are fully supportive of this work, we believe that much more meaningful work can be done with an inward focus.

We understand that the Board represent community interests and so we stand before you as concerned citizens and advocates for racial equality and we are calling on you to conduct an independent third party audit of the Ottawa Police Services’ diversity and equity practices. This audit should include a review of retention, hiring, promotion and assignment. The September 2016 racist comments about Annie Pootoogook’s death by an Ottawa police officer and the settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit against Ottawa police this past fall are only recent examples of racial bias that exist within the OPS. Many other examples exists but any one of these situations is one too many. Furthermore, representation within the OPS still remains an issue despite earlier calls to rectify this.

While personal biases are harder to control, creating a representative workforce is within your control. In a city like Ottawa, one of the most diverse cities in this country, we cannot continue to have public institutions that do not adequately reflect its population. We believe that an independent third party audit of the Ottawa Police Services’ diversity and equity practices is a Win-Win Solution. Here are five reasons why:

1. An Audit will help rebuild trust, credibility and transparency:

In the summer of 2016, the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) in partnership with the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP) held a forum to explore how Ottawa residents felt about anti-Black racism. Concerns were raised about street checks and stops by police. Community members shared stories of how young Black boys, as young as 9 to 12 years of age, were being stopped and questioned by police in many socio-economically marginalized neighborhoods across the city.

A representative police force can have symbolic benefits that enhance the overall status of a police force and also reduce the perception that actions, such as stops or searches, are based on racial profiling.

2. An Audit will create the baseline needed & establish long term measurable and meaningful change:

Systemic barriers within the organization creates difficulties for internal candidates to find advancement opportunities. This is where data on the issues would be useful. The Board will have a clearer picture of how the force operates and develop aspirational targets for improvement. Research suggests that increased diversity can make law enforcement agencies more open to reform, more willing to initiate cultural and systemic changes, and more responsive to the residents they serve.

3. An Audit is aligned with internal Ottawa Police Board policies. An audit like this is aligned with several internal policies such as:

Policy on Positive Workplace, policy on Public Consultation and the Policy on Human Rights and Racial Profiling more specifically, paragraph 31(1)(c) of the Police Services Act provides legislative authorities to the Board to conduct such an audit: the Board is responsible for the provision of “adequate and effective police services in the municipality and shall establish policies for the effective management of the police force…”What better way to operationalize this policy statement? To determine adequacy and effectiveness, we require measures.

4. There is precedence for this audit:

This would not be the first time a diversity and equity audit is conducted in law enforcement. In June 14, 2016, the Peel Police Board reached a resolution to conduct an external Equity Audit. Past audits, such as the gender audit conducted by the OPS, have proven to be valuable.

5. An audit lets OPS be proactive and not reactive:

An independent third party audit of the Ottawa Police Services’ diversity and equity practices allows the OPS to get ahead of any potential future human rights complaints.

We believe that THIS IS the opportunity to make real and meaningful change. The Ottawa Police Service has come to be known as the innovators of policing in Canada. We want to see the Ottawa Police Service as one that is adequately reflective of the culturally and racially diverse community it serves. We are standing at a pivotal moment in time and the community is looking to you for your leadership in this area. This kind of audit will have a significant impact on the community and it will send a clear message – a message that this community is in dire need of receiving – that the OPS is here to serve and protect all members of the community. Please know that we, as the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, are willing to be supportive partners in this journey to make this city a better place for all. Lets work together to make meaningful change in our public institutions. Thank you for your time.

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