Joel Harden MPP / Député, Ottawa Centre

Government of Ontario

Letter to Diane Deans re: Nov 21 Ottawa Police Interventions on Protestors

Published on November 24, 2020

Councillor Diane Deans, Chair 
Ottawa Police Services Board 
110 Laurier Avenue West

Dear Councillor Deans, 

I write to you in my capacity as Ottawa Centre’s Member of Provincial Parliament. 

In this role, as a member of Ontario’s Official Opposition Caucus, I share responsibility for policy discussion of policing which rests at the provincial level. As you and I both know, this is a subject of spirited debate in our city, and it has been likewise in the Ontario Legislature. 

On November 19, 2020, members of our community organized a protest action that occupied the intersection of Laurier and Nicholas streets. The event was called “Chiinawendiwen: We Are Related”, and it was promoted as a “Day of Action for Anishinabeg and Black Lives”. The protesters had a clear set of ten demands to put an end to systemic racism in the areas of policing, health, education, and housing. The names of Abdirahman Abdi, Greg Ritchie, and Anthony Aust were prominent at this action. 

On November 19, people took direct action to insist we do better. From the evening of Nov 19th, the protesters asked to meet with you and the OPS board. City officials pledged a 10 AM meeting with City Councillors on November 21 at the protest site, and a noon meeting with the OPS Board at City Hall. Events were poised to de-escalate, and dialogue was imminent. 

It is to our entire city’s shame that this opportunity was lost. The peaceful action abruptly ended at 3:30am on November 21 when police forcibly removed people, leaving many to languish for hours in police vans and police station cells, an experience that was traumatic for many. According to protest organizers, sacred Indigenous medicines and drums were desecrated during the raid (dumped in a pile of garbage bags) and returned in a disrespectful manner. People are outraged, and trust has been shattered. 

We also need answers as to why the November 21 police intervention was thought necessary, and why city and OC Transpo resources were used. I know this was expressed clearly in yesterday’s presentations by community members to the Ottawa Police Services Board. 

Councillor Deans, now is the time for action -- we need your leadership to insist on an urgent dialogue about policing. As Daniel Brown, a vice president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association recently put it, “there is nothing left to say, and everything left to do”. We must work with community members to address the structural racism that hampers their chances to live dignified lives.

We also need provincial legislation to address police violence, and invest in Black, Brown and Indigenous lives. The Ontario NDP Black Caucus has released a thoughtful paper that makes this goal explicit (MPP Laura Mae Lindo, copied here, is their chair), and my colleagues MPP Sol Mamakwa, MPP Suze Morrison, and MPP Guy Bourgouin bring valuable Indigenous perspectives to this discussion. You will note the ONDP Black Caucus paper echoes Mayor Watson’s call to allow police chiefs the right to suspend police officers without pay when they are charged with serious crimes. This is a proposal on which we can work together.  

I thank you for reading this letter, and look forward to working with you and others to put Ontario on a better path. Our communities deserve nothing less. 

My very best, 

[Original Signed]

Cc: Mayor Jim Watson, OPS Chief Peter Sloly, MPP Laura Mae Lindo, MPP Sol Mamakwa, MPP Suze Morrison, MPP Guy Bourgouin.