Ottawa TDoR Marred by Arrests

Ottawa is quite a distance from me, so I can’t speak definitively to what happened on Saturday.  Perhaps attendees can fill us in on the details.  What I do know is that two participants in a Transgender Day of Remembrance march in Ottawa were arrested for mischief when they attempted to hang a banner reading “Remember Stonewall” from a Highway 417 overpass (and this caused a bit of confusion, when one headline referred to “417 charges”).

Ottawa was notable this year in that their original plans for a march turned into two separate marches, when the Ottawa Police Services planned to unfurl a commemorative flag and lead the march.  The OPS participation is historic.  Over the years, trans people have not been well treated by law enforcement, so there was some obvious distrust and feeling that OPS was attempting to co-opt the event.  “Remember Stonewall” alludes to the fact that the Stonewall riots that touched off the LGBT rights movement were sparked by police raids on the Stonewall Inn in New York.  Xtra covers some of the divergent opinions:

“This is history in the making because we have never had that kind of recognition the police are giving us,” says [co-organizer Amanda] Ryan. “This is the first time in Canada we have had any kind of formal recognition for just the transgender community. We have been combined with Pride on many occasions, with flag-raisings and formal recognition, but never just the transgender community. So this is special.”

….

“Many people had concerns with the TDOR march starting at the police station,” says [second group organizer Melanie] Paszter. “Many of the people we are remembering on Trans Day of Remembrance have died by the hands of police officers elsewhere in the world. A lot of people are feeling uncomfortable at being at the police station, whether it be for their political views or their comfort level in general.”

When the pair were arrested,more than 50 members of the trans staged a sit-in at the police HQ in protest.

[Activist Taiva] Tegler said her friends were putting forward an important message and she isn’t surprised by their arrest.

“Whether you’re dropping a banner or simply existing, you will be targeted by the police,” she said.

“The police do not represent safety for a lot of people,” she said.

[Staff Sergeant Hugh] O’Toole said there’s a difference between protesting and committing a crime.

“They were creating an unsafe situation on the 417, and we had to intervene,” he said.

Again, I don’t know the whole story, although I don’t doubt that at least some of the Ottawa Police Service participants had the best of intentions in joining in on Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorations.  Times are changing, and if the OPS’ attitude and policy is also changing for the positive regarding trans people, that is an excellent thing — something to be commended.  Part of my feelings would depend on whether the OPS back their support up by their actions or if their deeds reveal support to be lip service.  I do not know the situation there well enough to know which of the two it is.

However, based on the information we see in the media (acknowledging that I don’t know if there were some reckless dangers in hanging the banner beyond leaning over a railing), arresting two participants from the other march because of their protest of the OPS doesn’t exactly inspire hope and warm fuzzies.  At the very least, and barring any further revelations that might adjust the context, it’s bad optics.  It’s worth asking (as it is with any Canadian police department) where the arrestees were housed and what the search procedures were when they were detained.

Hopefully, this can all lead to moves forward, rather than backwards.

Ottawa will also be voting in early December on a resolution to voice support for Bill C-389, which would make it the second city to do so (Vancouver passed such a resolution last week).

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  1. I’ve seen eyewitness reports from two of the attendees who saw what happened. They claim that the arrests were made when the two people climbed onto a traffic only (no sidewalks) overpass which is where the ‘safety issue’ came from. They feel that it was a stunt designed to make the police react and look bad. They do not claim that it was organised by anyone associated with the Day of Remembrance.

    • Dan
    • November 26th, 2010

    I was at the Police station and was one of the two participants in the sit-in to be allowed back into the cell block to talk with the two individuals arrested. There are a lot of issues that emerge from the banner dropping action and the arrests. I do not know who the two youth are nor do I know their politics other than what was articulated through their refusal to provide their identities to police. I found this action to be ill-thought out, poorly timed and badly strategized. Dropping a banner from the 417 saying “Remember Stonewall?” does not address the myriad of issues that TDOR seeks to confront, nor does it speak to the specific politics within Ottawa. This is a conservative city that has hostile municiple policies concerning homelessness, panhandling, and substance use. The police are certainly no supporters of the many sex workers in the city. The two events this year, one at the Police Headquarters and the other at Minto Park opened spaces to have such discussions and highlight the political differences amongst ‘trans-‘ communities.

    The arrests and the subsequent media attention paid to it risked hijacking the event and the issues faced by trans people especially transsexual women, and those who are racialized and impoverished, or criminalized by the Canada state. While I am not a supporter of rigid boundaries between LGBQ and trans identities –the slogan these activists chose is peculiar given the tensions between these communities and the fact that many trans people do not identify with the Stonewall riots in 1969).

    While there are some trans activists in Ottawa distancing themselves from the arrests out of some capitulation to the neoliberal productive and respectable citizen ethos, I am not among them. I do think that these banner dropping protestors (who, by the way, were quite happy to partake in the activist tourist experience of a night in jail in their own private cells) need to ask themselves ‘why that action’? And what are the repercussions?

    • dentedbluemercedes
    • November 30th, 2010

    Update:

    Xtra reports that neither youth has been formally charged: http://www.xtra.ca/public/Ottawa/Trans_Day_of_Remembrance_youth_activists_not_charged-9488.aspx

    Neither has publicly commented on what took place.

    • Natalie Murray
    • December 31st, 2010

    I was at that day’s ceremony and saw that banner for myself. My thoughts? These protesters would have had to climb up a very steep embankment and venture out into the middle on this overpass, one that just happens to carry the busiest throughfare in Ottawa, the 417 freeway. I think the people who chose that particular location were idiots in the extreme, and that the police were entirely justified for arresting them. They were not targeted. They brought it entirely on themselves. Because their actions effectively hijacked what was otherwise a very positive event, much of it because they tried to politicize it, I have NO sympathy for them.

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