Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition’s response to alleged suspension of Dynamic Entries, terrorizing residents and the use of force by Ottawa Police Services
When Peter Sloly became Ottawa’s first Black police chief in October 2019, he was heralded as the man that would spark a culture change in the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) due to his reputation as a modernizing force within the Toronto Police Services. His appointment to Ottawa’s top cop position was considered by some as a positive step in the right direction, especially at a time where the increasing protests against police violence was bringing an unprecedented level of awareness of violent police interactions with minority communities.
The Chief’s September 2020 opinion column in the Ottawa Citizen on systemic racism in police forces signalled, to many that this was a man who would make good on the promise of his reputation. Sloly reiterated his unequivocal belief, that “conscious and unconscious bias is a challenge for all police members and that systemic racism exists in policing,” and that the OPS was committed to “meaningful change [because] our community members and the members of our Black community deserve no less.”
We are aware that it will take more than a Black man, heading an agency that despises him for his Blackness, saying the right things for there to be any sustainable, structural change to a inherently violent, systematically racist police force that considers Black lives to be the inevitable and justifiable collateral of police business. It will take much more than the Chief’s acknowledgement of the systematically racist nature of policing for us to forget that the OPS represents a clear and persistent danger to Black lives. Time and again, we are reminded of it.
Case in point: at 5:45AM on March 25th, an OPS tactical unit of ten armed police officers entered the Vanier home of a Black family. They entered unannounced, with their guns drawn and flashlights pointed into the faces of the confused and terrified inhabitants. Police had received a call earlier alerting them that there was a man in the area experiencing emotional distress and threatening to self-harm. Present at this home was a mother, her five sons, and their senior friend, all sleeping. Not one distressed man in sight.
Even after illegally entering and sweeping the premises, police proceeded to question two minors. An eleven year old child was, by his account woken from his sleep by OPS flashing lights through his bedroom window. They ordered he get out of bed, open the window and they then proceeded to question a freezing child, in his underwear, not 1 but 3 officers stayed and intimidated this child; about the layout of the home, its occupants and the actual address of the property on which they stood, for 30 minutes. When the eleven year old child asked to leave his room, the police refused him. ‘’ I wanted to leave. When they said I couldn’t I was scared of what could happen to me if I tried to walk away and call my mom or brother. I don’t have good feelings about the police’’ The child shared.
OPS was in the home conducting an illegal search and had also questioned his seventeen year old brother, in order to locate the man the call was regarding. However, the children were not aware of any call to the Ottawa Police or of anyone threatening to self-harm. A 70 year old senior in the home was also victimized when OPS barged into his room, shone a flashlight in his face and repeatedly yelled that he had to evacuate the home. A 21 year old occupant of the home and also eldest brother began to demand that officers explain why they had illegally entered their home. Several changing explanations were provided and the Ottawa Police eventually settled on, ‘We got the wrong house. It happens’.
The Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition (OBDC) has spoken to the mother and in her statement to OBDC, she confirmed that officers would not permit her 11 year old son to have anyone present while being questioned. She says that a female officer dismissively rolled her eyes and refused to provide any information when she asked why her son was being interrogated or why they attended their home. This only served to further her anger, says the mother. It was at this point that she demanded the officers explain why they had barged into her home without knocking, a warrant or cause. The female officer instructed the mother that a constable was on his way to speak with the mother.
News of the incident began to circulate on social media prompting the Ottawa Police Services to release a statement denying that police had drawn their firearms or that anyone was harmed. The Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition and our Allies are here to firmly say that we have spoken to the family and we can assure you that THIS IS A LIE. Had the Ottawa Police not released a statement full of untruths, the family would not move forward to speak out publicly, they only wanted to move on and forget the nightmare had happened.
We believe the account shared with us by the mother and her children and thank them for their willingness to trust us to advocate on their behalf.
We’ve seen incidents like this before and judging by the unapologetic, untrue statement released by the OPS, our communities will continue to experience this violence. Guns were drawn. The Tactical Unit were carrying and led with their large guns. Harm was indeed caused both emotionally and mentally. OPS’ statement has made it abundantly clear that Ottawa police officers do not have an appropriate working knowledge of what constitutes harm, why their defunding is essential and that they should not be permitted on Mental health calls.
During a February 2020 Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) meeting, Chief Sloly accused activists of intimidating community groups willing to work with OPS in developing its mental health strategy. He chastised community led movements of being, “mass campaigns to erode the public’s trust in the Ottawa Police.”
Young Black children were interrogated without a legal guardian present. Guns were drawn in their presence, their home was searched without a warrant, and their Black mother’s concerns and questions were rudely dismissed by officers. They stated multiple times they were at the wrong premises; yet lingered around the house trying to question tenants for over 4 hours.
This unjustifiable trauma was inflicted on these young children with impunity, further reinforcing a fear that the Black community has of the police. Local activists don’t erode public trust in the police – the police do that and sadly this will happen again.
Furthermore, what if this had been the correct home. What if the man reported to be threatening self-harm had been present. Do the Ottawa Police Service truly believe that ten armed officers, entering into a home, guns drawn is the appropriate response to a person suffering from a mental health crisis?
No, it is not. It is excessive use of force. These tactics further escalate situations, they do not mitigate harm nor make anyone feel safe.
There is a French saying, “Quand la tête est pourrie, le corps suits.” If the head is rotten the body is sure to follow. Inversely, it may be argued that a similar ripple effect will be witnessed if the head itself is healthy and good. One suspects that this is precisely what Ottawa City Council believed when handing the OPS reins over to Chief Sloly in 2019.
OPS was rotting long before Chief Sloly stepped foot into Ottawa and it will continue to rot. Gangrene spreads. It kills all the living tissue that it touches and it does not stop until the offending limb is surgically removed, once and for all. A righteous head, no matter how intent on reform, cannot save the thing that is dying and leaving death in its wake. The OBDC and our allies call on Ottawa City Council to divest itself from this rotting body. Put it to rest. Re-allocate funding to the community organizations that are able to have a real, genuine, and sustained impact on Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.