Ottawa – Today is a challenging and emotional day for our City and for many of our residents.

The tragic incident involving Abdirahman Abdi, which happened over four years ago, has of course been especially heartbreaking for Mr. Abdi’s family and friends within the local Somali community. For those individuals who have experienced discrimination in our community, either systemic or overt, today may be even more difficult and painful.

Today, my primary thoughts go out to Mr. Abdi’s family and friends for their devastating loss. I would like to once again express my sincere condolences and regret for the death of their loved one.

I am also mindful of the patience they have shown as this case has moved through the legal process. I can only imagine that the lengthy proceedings have, in all likelihood, added to their grief.

I also want to take this opportunity to re-iterate my full confidence in our justice system. We are privileged in Canada to have a justice system that strives to render verdicts based on the facts and evidence before the courts – a system that upholds the rule of law.

Now, we are faced with the obligation of moving past this verdict and to reflect on the changes we need to continue to commit to – to allow us to move forward with a sense of common purpose.

The past year has been difficult for all of us, in many ways. In addition to the ongoing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also seen the issues of racism and the disproportionate impacts of systemic inequality come into sharp focus.

Events in both the United States and Canada have led to numerous rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Black racism, protests against police use of force and a strengthened commitment to address racial injustice in cities across the world, including here in Ottawa.

It is clear that Ottawa is not, and cannot be, immune to participating in this important movement.

Many members of our community live with some form of discrimination, be it gender, mental health, race, age, poverty or sexual orientation – to name just a few.  The impact of this discrimination is the lived experience that remains persistent across our cities and within communities.

The complex functioning 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 Peoples, Black and other racialized populations in Ottawa have been, and continue to be, disproportionately the victims of violence, racist graffiti, racial slurs, excluded from activities and employment opportunities and discriminated against in the workplace.

This can only end with sustained, concrete action. I believe that municipalities have an important role to play in the fight against racism and discrimination. That is why I was pleased to lend my early support to 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.

The secretariat will help ensure that an anti-racism lens is applied to city policies so that the services we provide are delivered to all residents equitably.

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

After more than three years of working together, the Somali Community Table has; initiated or completed all 19 actions identified on their original workplan; engaged 5735 residents and service providers; and, provided employment supports to 504 Somali residents.  As the Mayor of Ottawa, I remain committed to work tirelessly to make our city a better place to live for all residents.

Change is necessary in all our public service institutions. I am very aware that the criminal trial of Constable Daniel Montsion has been difficult for members of the Ottawa Police Service, including Chief Sloly.

I support the work of Chief Peter Sloly and Chair Diane Deans as they work to reform and bring about change within the Ottawa Police Service.

Chair Deans has outlined important ongoing changes underway within the Ottawa Police Service.

Over the last year on the Ottawa Police Services Board, I have had the privilege of supporting 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.

I have also heard many stories of police officers who continue to go beyond the call of duty and show an evolving sensitivity towards these issues. I want to recognize efforts to date and appreciate the many tough decisions that have been made towards reform.  I believe these early steps will help prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

If we remain committed and steadfast in our resolve, we can create an inclusive and responsive community that is welcoming for all residents. I ask that you consider today’s verdict as an opportunity to recommit to the work ahead and to align behind these goals.