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).