Photo: Ottawa police reading an arrest script to peaceful protesters at the We Are Related action, promising that “force will be used, if necessary.” (Credit: Screenshot from a video by Nanokazii/Victoria Marchand)
n November 23, Ottawa police shut down a protest before its members could meet with representatives of the police services board and city council.
How can we break this recursive loop where police attack Black and Indigenous people protesting police attacks on Black and Indigenous people?
The “Chiinawendiwin — We Are Related” day of action was organized by the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, KZ [Kitigan Zibi Anishnaabeg] Land Protectors, and the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition. Protestors were demanding a freeze to the police budget and action to end systemic racism in the city and its policing. Their demands were summarized in a handy graphic:
After meeting in front of city hall, the protesters occupied the downtown intersection of Laurier and Nicholas. They eventually settled in with tents and a fire barrel, holding the intersection from approximately 4pm on November 19 to 3:30am on November 21.
Police shut things down just a few hours after the organizing groups announced it had won meetings with members of city council and the Ottawa Police Services Board — and just a few hours before the meetings were scheduled to happen that morning.
In the wake of the arrests, a joint press release from the protest coalition made a key point: Ottawa police lied about protesters blocking an important route for emergency responders in order to justify the arrests, a claim that articles by CBC News and the Ottawa Citizen regurgitated without bothering to fact-check. But organizers had in fact agreed to leave a lane for emergency vehicles — something that anyone on the ground at the protest could see was put into practice.
The timing of the raid was awfully suspicious, with meetings to discuss police funding just around the corner. Were police afraid of the progress this coalition of Indigenous, Black, and allied protesters were making? Is it a coincidence that their actions sabotaged a democratic protest and meetings with elected leaders that might have threatened their funding increase?
If Ottawa police did lie about this, then this one incident suggests they’re either cowardly and corrupt, or incompetent and casually racist — not to mention anti-democratic. Should we trust them to do anything, much less reward them with funding increases? How can we break this recursive loop where police attack Black and Indigenous people protesting police attacks on Black and Indigenous people?
Here’s a few more reasons, in no particular order, to take away the Ottawa police’s toys (i.e. disarm and defund them):
- Constable Montsion was recently acquitted after beating to death Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man with mental health challenges. Meanwhile, local police union head Matt Skof — who was re-elected by Ottawa police despite facing charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice — gloated that the police response to another call like the one for Abdi would be the “exact same” today.
- Anthony Aust, a young Black on parole, recently fell to his death after a no-knock police search.
- Last year, Greg Ritchie, an Ojibwe man, was shot by police while experiencing a mental health crisis.
- The Ottawa police have a long history of killing members of the public without consequence — a disproportionate amount of them Black, Indigenous, and racialized. For all the excruciating details, see our articles “A Timeline of Ottawa Police Violence” and “The Ottawa Police’s Long History of Violence and Racism“.
- Ottawa police generally face no professional consequences for misconduct, even when they are convicted of crimes, as shown by Ottawa Life’s “Oversight and temperament problems at Ottawa Police Service”.
- 2019 saw the return of community policing to Ottawa, a supposedly kinder and gentler form of policing that “is not an alternative to traditional policing, but an expansion of policing into the everyday life,”as Lily Xia put it in her Leveller article “Rethinking neighbourhood and community policing“.
- The Ottawa police are looking to implement “hub policing,” a model where police “collaborate” with social services and effectively turn social workers and teachers (etc.) into police agents, as Nathan Munn put it a From Embers podcast episode.
- Local cops have been spotted with Thin Blue Line symbols (in-person and online), which often signals an officer will maintain the “blue wall of silence” and not report abuse by other officer — on the theory that police are like a thin line separating society from disastrous anarchy, and so whatever they do to maintain this line is justified. (The Ontario Police union has also flown a Blue Lives Matter flag – and advocated for Ford’s election, which is supposedly illegal — and police unions are deeply powerful and reactionary forces, as Chelsea Nash persuasively argued in a Rabble article.)
A few bad apples spoil the whole bunch, as the old proverb goes. Police apologists love to truncate this phrase, to pretend bad apples are isolated cases instead of indicators of systemic rot. But it’s time to face the fact the whole bunch has spoiled. As the 2021 police funding works its way towards approval in the city’s budget, we here at the Leveller would like to suggest Ottawa citizens and council seriously consider just composting the whole Ottawa Police Service.