please forward widely*
statement on the Ottawa Police
No One Is Illegal (Ottawa)
Pro-Choice Coalition of Ottawa
Under PressureCommon Cause Ottawa
On Saturday November 20th two queer activists were arrested for unfurling a banner as part of the Trans Day of Remembrance events. The banner, which read ''Remember Stonewall?'', was dropped from a highway overpass near the Ottawa Police station on Elgin street, where a flag-raising ceremony for TDOR was about to take place. Many in the queer and trans community were upset that some TDOR organizers would choose to host an event with the police, given how tense the relationship between queer and trans groups and the cops has become. The flag-raising ceremony at the cop shop was supposed to turn into a march to Parliament Hill, but many in the community chose to gather at Minto park, a few blocks away, as an alternate to the police ceremony – making it clear that the police do not have the trust of many in Ottawa's queer and trans community.
Many groups have found it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to work with the police, and so we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our opposition to the idea that we must always work with the cops.
Many of us come from communities that have long been targeted by police forces, and continue today to be harassed by and experience violence from those same forces. We are queer, poor, non-status, trans, racialized, sex-workers, indigenous, disabled and homeless. We have been victims of violence, wrongful arrests, sexual assaults, intimidation and ridicule by the police.
This has been the case for many many years. But recently, in the last year, the systemic nature of abuses on the part of the Ottawa police has been so exposed that even the most sympathetic can no longer excuse it as 'a few bad apples'.
Earlier this year Ottawa Police released the photograph of a man who didn't disclose his HIV-positive status to partners, using the words "sexual predator” in media communications. The young man is now being charged with aggravated sexual assault for allegedly spreading a sexually transmitted disease. His picture made the front page of Ottawa newspapers. Despite this being widely condemned by HIV activists and community organizations, Police Chief Vern White stood by his decision earlier this year to release the photograph. By flatly rejecting a community proposal to review and develop policy guidelines for prosecution for HIV non-disclosure cases, Chief White showed no interest in collaboration and chose to ignore the expertise of HIV/AIDS community organizations and legal opinions denouncing this intensification of the criminalization of HIV. The outrage over this incident caused deep divisions in the queer community during Ottawa Pride in August, when official Pride organizers invited the Ottawa police to speak at the human rights vigil as part of the week's events, prompting an outcry from community-based HIV/AIDS organizations and activists in which they stated that if the police were not uninvited from the event they would be forced to withdraw and organize independently.
This summer well over a thousand people were arrested at the mass anti-G20 mobilizations in Toronto. Some were beaten, some were dragged from their beds in the early hours of the days of action, some were captured on their way to or from the protests and some were caught in mass arrests. Most of the arrestees have had their charges dropped, though some still face serious Conspiracy charges, draconian bail conditions, while some remain in jail and others face deportation.
On June 18th of this year three local activists were arrested. One was released a few days later under strict conditions, another spent months in jail, and another remains locked up today. Charges have been stayed for two of the arrestees, but the damage to their lives has already been done. In addition, through the court proceedings it was discovered that police had not only had active surveillance on local activist groups, but actually had an undercover agent infiltrating social justice organizations.
Recently, an Ottawa police officer who followed a cab driver to the airport, in a fit of road-rage after being cut off on the road, and broke the cab driver's arm after uttering racial slurs, was acquitted. Despite the obvious racist motivations behind the attack, and the complicity of other officers in the incident, the Police Chief chose to defend his officers and faced sharp criticisms from the taxi driver's union who could not be appeased, and demanded that the entirety of the Ottawa police force be reviewed and that Chief White address the systemic racism of the force.
Recently, a number of women have gone public with charges of harassment and assault against Ottawa police officers, many of them implicating the same officers in a more than one incident of abuse – officers who remain employed by the Ottawa police. We learned about the case of a young woman who was arrested, sexually assaulted – violence which was caught on police video – and held for hours by the Ottawa police after having committed no crime. Walking through the Byward Market late at night she was a victim of social profiling. A judge called her treatment a ''travesty.'' Two weeks later, another woman came forward with a lawsuit against the same officers, among others, for assault while in custody and wrongful arrest. And this past weekend, another Ottawa woman also came forward with charges of sexual assault and mistreatment while in custody after being arrested without cause.
We say that these are not random or unrelated incidents. And they are also just the tip of the iceberg, further proof of a bad system that must be changed immediately.
These are not just a few bad apples – this is a corrupt, illegitimate, and violent institution. More than the high profile cases that we see on the news, it is the institutionalized discrimination and day-to-day abuses of the police that worry us the most: systemic racism and misogyny, the continued arrests of sex workers, the ticketing of panhandlers, the lack of any real action for the hundreds of missing aboriginal women, the harassment and criminalization of drug users and countless other offences. Despite mountains of proof that criminalization does more harm than good, it continues to be the only agenda that this city is willing to put money behind. This dangerous strategy is being implemented by a police force with a long and troubling history of violence, abuse of authority, and impunity. This is not a system that we deem fair and democratic and this is not a system that we will cooperate with.
We applaud the efforts of all those struggling for justice and freedom, and those who have risked or lost their freedoms in this fight. We stand in solidarity with all prisoners and all those struggling to survive in the face of a system that would rather see them dead. We will continue to support all political arrestees and all those subjected to police brutality, and continue to proclaim loudly that the police are not our friends.
For more information and recent articles about our local police force: