Watson creating 'leadership table' to tackle violent crime

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is creating a so-called "leadership table" to deal with violent crime in the city.

This follows a meeting between Watson and police chief Peter Sloly on Wednesday, which the mayor requested following a stabbing and a shooting in the ByWard Market and another shooting in Kanata over the long weekend.

"I think one of the things that really came out of the meeting is that we have to do a better job coordinating the different agencies that deal with criminal activities, some of the social challenges and mental challenges that often lead to criminal activities," Watson said.

The table will include representatives from the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa Social Services, Ottawa Inner City Health, business improvement areas, and others.

It will be focused on the ByWard Market to start but the mayor says it is meant to be a citywide initiative.

They will meet next week.

"All these different agencies trying to knock down the silos so we can actually come up with specific ideas on how to increase police presence, for instance, in those challenged neighbourhoods."

Over the Labour Day weekend, two people were sent to hospital following a stabbing in the ByWard Market on Saturday and a shooting on Monday. Another individual was hurt in a drive-by shooting in a residential neighbourhood in Kanata Monday night.

Sloly told CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday that Ottawa's level of violent crime appears to be returning to pre-pandemic levels after a drop in 2020.

"As a trend, we’re seeing relatively the same level of violent crime and victimization that we’ve seen over the last five years, with the exception of 2020 in its totality because of the impacts of COVID," he said.

Sloly said that when it comes to the ByWard Market, that there is more to the level of violence than just criminal activity.

"Much of the violence that we’re seeing in and around the market has very little to do with crime and has everything to do with mental health, addictions, social services, housing, homelessness; there is a crime element of it but it is not what is driving the majority of violent crime and victimization in and around the market," he said.

Mental health advocates say some of those problems could be alleviated if treatment and supports were more readily available.

“It really is people with untreated mental illness (creating these issues). If the system could treat them I think we’d see a real drastic improvement in what’s going on but that takes some political will, some investment of tax base dollars,” Tim Simboli, Executive Director for the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association said.

Watson said one of the goals of the leadership table would be to figure out how best to allocate resources and skills.

"We’re trying to get the right person to the right service. Right now, the police end up doing a lot of the work that should be done by others within the social service agency," he said. "I think we need greater police presence and we also need the work of mental health workers to help the police do their jobs properly and we need to make sure our social service agencies are able to deal with some the challenges that people are facing."

Simboli says any solution needs to tackle Ottawa’s chronic and lingering housing issues.

“Part of it is to take a look at our shelter system and make sure the shelter system meets the needs of the people who are using it and right now I think it’s overloaded, overworked, struggling to get through COVID, but it’s always been struggling,” he said.

There have been 58 shootings in Ottawa so far this year, eight of which were fatal. There were more than 70 shootings each year between 2017 and 2019, though the figure dropped to 45 in 2020 amid the pandemic.

While calls to tackle violent crime in the city are not new, Watson said Wednesday the 2022 budget would include some additional help.

"I think you’ll start to see some activity when the budget is tabled, for instance, for the city and the police and what they’re going to put into their budget to try and deal with some of these issues."