FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 25 – Ottawa, Ontario – Ottawa Black community groups strongly condemn the removal and arrest of peaceful protesters by Ottawa police in the early hours of Saturday, November 21. Twelve people were arrested and charged after Ottawa police moved in early Saturday to break up a multi-day downtown demonstration demanding change for Black and Indigenous people.
The police justified the action saying, “The demonstration disrupted regular traffic and blocked an important route for emergency responders. This caused multiple safety issues.”
If safety was an issue, why didn’t the police remove the protesters when they first arrived Thursday afternoon? Why did the police wait until 3:30am Saturday morning, well out of sight of the media, to move in?
Media reports quoted protesters saying that police handcuffed and harassed them and kept waiting in a stuffy, airless police van. They said the police alternately yelled at, and ignored, them and bullied them from the very moment they arrested them to when they were released.
The protesters had an agreement to meet with some city councillors at the blocked intersection at 10 a.m. Saturday and with members of the Ottawa Police Services Board at city hall at noon – and the police knew this. That the police went ahead and forcibly removed the protesters just hours before the meetings was an act of bad faith. Also, charging 12 protesters with mischief contradicts the OPS’ frequent claim that they want to “improve community relations” as it appears to be no more than an intimidation tactic. Since, as previously stated, the timing of the police action suggests safety wasn’t really an issue, why did the police choose to arrest and charge 12 people? Yes, blocking an intersection is illegal but so is jaywalking but the police don’t enforce it because, most of the time, safety isn’t an issue.
This contradiction makes it difficult for Black community groups to support the OPS’ recently approved request for over $1 million in its 2021 budget for neighborhood resource teams it claims will improve community relations. Removing, arresting and charging peaceful protesters supports the many Black community voices that say NRT’s are just lipstick on the pig of the OPS’s real aim – the continued criminalization of poverty and dissent.
Ifrah Yusuf, co-chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, said occupying the intersection, which began Thursday afternoon, was a way to stand in solidarity with Black and Indigenous groups against systemic racism in institutions. She said they wanted to show that they stand, hand-in-hand, against the violence that is inflicted on them on a daily basis, with the policing system, the housing system, the education system, the health system and the city as a whole.
The police could have let the protesters stay until it was time for their meetings and taken other action to ensure safety at the scene. That they chose to criminalize protesters instead is yet another set back for police/community relations.
The first step towards repairing relations must be immediately dropping all charges against protesters.
613-819 Black Hub, North-South Development Roots and Culture Canada, Black Agenda Noir, Jaku Konbit
English – Robin Browne, 613-819 Black Hub, 613-252-4232, email@example.comFrançais – Ketcia Peters, Nord-Sud développement racines et culture Canada, 613-606-3540, firstname.lastname@example.org