Last week, I sent this email to the Mayor of Ottawa, my Councilor and the Head of the Ottawa Police Services Board, expressing my dissatisfaction with the failure of Ottawa Police to police the demonstration protesting Ann Coulter’s appearance. This failure to police was so severe that, at the ‘strong suggestion’ of the Ottawa Police, the event was canceled.
My main point of was that it is inappropriate for the police in general, and Ottawa Police in particular, to dictate (through either direct action or through inaction) who does or does not have the freedom of speech!
Mr. El-Chantiry – the Chair of Ottawa Police Services Board – was the only one to reply. Here is his response – in full:
Hi Ms. Belaire,
This event was not cancelled by the Ottawa Police. This was a University of Ottawa event. Please contact them for clarification.
Chair, Ottawa Police Services Board
Councillor, West Carleton-March
Here is my reply to Mr. El-Chantiry:
Dear Mr. El-Chantiry,
thank you for your prompt – if brief – reply to my letter of concern. I will be posting it on my blog.
It has now been a full week and neither Mr. O’Brien, the Mayor, nor my Councilor, Mr. Hunter, have replied. So, I do appreciate that you, sir, do care!
Still, your letter did not address my concern…
If my poor wording had misled you into thinking I was complaining about insufficient security at the University of Ottawa event where Ann Coulter had been invited to speak, I apologize and clarify: the University of Ottawa did indeed provide sufficient security to ensure the people attending the event (all of whom had to pre-register) did not breech any laws or bylaws. No problems or complaints there.
It was regarding the failure to provide sufficient ‘supervision’ and/or security at two additional events – both protest demonstrations (one opposing, one supporting Ann Coulter’s right to speak) – that my complaint is about. Neither of these two outdoor demonstrations were organized by Ann Coulter, her sponsors or the University of Ottawa.
This would be comparable to, say, you hiring an entertainer to come to your home for your child’s birthday party….and, for some reason, this entertainer had earned the wrath of some people who gathered outside your home to protest this entertainer’s presence. Would it be your responsibility to provide the ‘supervision’ and ‘security’ at the protest gathering outside your home, against your will?
Your response would suggest that yes, it would be the homeowner (or the event’s organizer) – not the protest’s organizer – who is responsible…
With whom does the responsibility really lie?
From the official City of Ottawa website (the emphasis is mine):
Definition: For our purposes, a demonstration is a spontaneous or planned collection of people using the road allowance as a place to express an opinion. This type of event can be stationary (confined to a specific location) or one which moves from one point to another (commonly referred to as a “march”). Both types of demonstrations are subject to the criteria outlined in this section.
This seems clear enough: both of the protest demonstrations were indeed ‘demonstrations’, as defined by the City of Ottawa. As such, they were subject to very specific rules and regulations.
The City of Ottawa imposes very significant limitations (I might even argue these rules and restrictions are ‘unreasonable’ and ‘counter to common-sense’ – but, as long as they are the law of this land, we must all abide by them… ) on both organized and spontaneous demonstrations. Through imposing these limitations, the City of Ottawa unequivocally claims the sole jurisdiction – and thus responsibility for – over all outdoor demonstrations – for the Ottawa Police alone!
Point #9 of the bylaws governing ‘demonstrations’ states:
Police supervision is required for a demonstration. It is the responsibility of the demonstration organizer to contact the Ottawa Police to arrange for supervision. The demonstration organizer may be responsible for any costs associated with the provision of this service.
Let’s take it one sentence at a time:
Police supervision is required for a demonstration.
This one single sentence states that it is the police – the Ottawa Police – who has the sole responsibility for the ‘supervision’ of any and every ‘demonstration’ within the City of Ottawa.
What is more, this one sentence also quite unequivocally denies the University of Ottawa the right – yes, the very right – to ‘supervise’ any ‘demonstrations’ which take place outside the walls of its buildings!
This one sentence, Mr. El-Chantiry, also puts the failure to provide adequate security at these ‘demonstrations’ squarely onto the shoulders of Ottawa Police – the civilian oversight board of which you, sir, are the chair!
If this is insufficient to convince you, let us consider the next sentence of point #9 of the City of Ottawa bylaw:
It is the responsibility of the demonstration organizer to contact the Ottawa Police to arrange for supervision.
If nothing else, this clearly states it is the organizers of the demonstration and the police – not the organizers of the event which sparked it – who are responsible for the ‘security’ at the demonstration! And, it places the responsibility solely onto the Ottawa Police.
On the night of the ‘Ann Coulter’ fiasco at Ottawa University, the Ottawa Police were either unable or unwilling to fulfill their part of our social contract. Therefore, it is essential that the Ottawa Police Services Board investigates this failure in governance and ensures that it does not occur again.
What is even worse, the context in which this happened – forcing the cancellation of a speech by a speaker whose views are known to be unpopular with many labour unions, including the one Ottawa Police officers belong to – opens the Ottawa Police to charges of ‘selective policing’ to further the political interests of their labour union. I very much hope this is not so! Still, this issue must also be thoroughly investigated, if only to remove the cloud of suspicion which is currently marring the reputation of the Ottawa Police even more that the simple failure to act did.
Mr. El-Chantiry, please, find out what happened, and let me know. Fix the problems – and restore the good reputation of the Ottawa Police!