November 21, 2020 – Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, Anishinabe Land Defenders, and the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition condemn Ottawa Police Service’s violent and deceitful police operation against Indigenous, Black, and allied protesters;
OTTAWA – Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition (OBDC), Anishinabe Land Defenders, and the Justice for Abdirahman (JFA) Coalition resolutely condemn the Ottawa Police Service (OPS)’s cowardly and deceitful police action at 3:30 AM this morning against Indigenous and Black protesters and our allies, including members of our organizations.
Our three organizations and our allies took up space on unceded Algonquin Anishinabe territory at Nicholas Street and Laurier Avenue beginning Thursday to demand a freeze of the OPS budget and protest systemic racism in policing, education, health, and housing. Our protest was peaceful and we spent much of the occupation in contemplation, prayer, dance, poetry, and song.
Contrary to the OPS’ misleading statement issued today, our protesters did not block an “important route” for emergency responders. The organizers agreed to leave an empty lane on the intersection dedicated to non-police emergency vehicles. There was enough space at Nicholas and Laurier for any fire truck or ambulance traffic to use the intersection if needed. There was enough space and city workers were allowed into the intersection to place pylons along the area they deemed necessary for emergency passage. That space remained empty. There was absolutely no risk to the safety of the public.
On Thursday evening, shortly after the beginning of our protest, we communicated to Staff Sergeant Ian McKenna our request to have the members of the OPS Board, especially Councillors Diane Deans, Rawlson King, and Carol Anne Meehan, meet us at the site of our demonstration. On Friday morning, we were informed by police liaisons Constables Megan Arbuthnot and Christian Lamarche that the OPS Board had refused our request to meet, and had offered us an extra five-minute slot – aside from scheduled public delegations – at their regular meeting on Monday, November 23rd. We declined and reiterated our request for Councillor Deans and the rest of the Board to come to Laurier and Nicholas for a meeting. We were given no further updates regarding our meeting request for the rest of the day on Friday.
On Friday night at approximately 9 PM, OBDC, Anishinabe Land Defenders, and JFA, through contacting the offices of our own City Councillors, managed to secure a meeting with several Councillors, including Rawlson King, Shawn Menard, Jeff Leiper, and Catherine McKenney at our protest site at 10 AM on Saturday. Also around 9 PM, Councillor Deans agreed to hold a meeting with us and several members of the OPS Board at City Hall at noon. Our hope was that we could discuss our demands and negotiate, in good faith, a resolution. The meetings were to be held between the respective City officials and representatives of all three organizations. OBDC, Anishinabe Land Defenders, and JFA made an announcement just after midnight about our meetings the next day.
Despite reaching these agreements to meet with the City, the City saw fit to move against our peaceful demonstration in the dead of night. At approximately 3:30 AM Saturday, dozens of OPS officers, assisted by OC Transpo buses and City of Ottawa vehicles and personnel, swarmed without warning the peaceful protesters while most were sleeping at Nicholas and Laurier Ave. They proceeded to give minutes notice to dismantle the entire protest site.
OPS officers then arrested 13 peaceful protesters, including one minor, and subsequently charged all of the adults with mischief under the Criminal Code. Three of the arrested protesters were Anishinabe, three were from Ottawa’s Black communities, and seven were allies from other communities standing with us. Many of the protesters were arrested while attempting to wake up from resting, dismantle their encampments, gather their possessions, and vacate the site.
We are outraged by this inordinate and inexcusable police response, and the use of non-police City of Ottawa resources, such as OC Transpo, paramedics, and City maintenance vehicles.
This is clear bad faith. The City of Ottawa and OPS have broken once again the trust of Indigenous and Black communities in Ottawa. They have caused deep harm, trauma and have set the relationship back many years in the space of one night by way of a reckless and violent decision. Today we gathered outside OPS Headquarters to show our love and support to those arrested and to demand their release, as well as the dismissal of all charges. We cancelled our two meetings with City officials; while Councillor Deans may have been available to meet at noon, we were not.
For our next steps, we reiterate our call for the City of Ottawa to immediately freeze the police budget. This devastating police action has offered another grim example of why this force should not receive a more than $13 million increase this year for their callous disregard for our lives and wellbeing as Indigenous and Black people.
We demand answers from Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Diane Deans, City Manager Steve Kanellakos, General Manager of Emergency and Protective Services Anthony Di Monte, OPS Chief Peter Sloly, OPS Deputy Chief Steve Bell, General Manager of Transportation Services John Manconi, and anyone else who may have authorized this cowardly nighttime arrest of peaceful protesters, as well as the irresponsible use of city resources beyond the police budget during the arrest.
Lastly, we are calling for ALL charges against the protesters to be dropped. Peacefully protesting systemic racism is not mischief.