Concerns raised after Ottawa Police follow community members to underground parking lot after Gaza ceasefire protest

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Still from ottawa4.palestine video.

For seventeen consecutive weeks, thousands of Ottawa residents have gathered either on Parliament Hill or at the Human Rights Monument to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and express their solidarity with Palestine.

While the presence of the police has always seemed disproportionate, there was a noticeable shift around the eleventh week of protest.

On December 23, Ottawa By-law and Regulatory Services (BLRS) officers, backed by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), began to issue $490 fines to those using megaphones (that BLRS refers to as “sound reproduction or amplification devices”).

Photo by Ashley Fraser/Postmedia/Ottawa Citizen.

By January 15, Ottawa By-law officers began a practice of not issuing all tickets at the afternoon protests, but rather going to at least two homes to issue them (in one instance, on Monday January 22 at nearly 10 pm following a protest on Sunday January 21).

Then, at the most recent mobilization on February 4, Ottawa By-law officers, again backed by Ottawa Police, followed a young woman into the underground parking lot at City Hall (near the Human Rights Monument) after the protest had ended.

As Hassan Husseini of Labour for Palestine has noted: “After the weekly demonstration vs the #Gaza_Genocide in #Ottawa today, @OttawaPolice & @OttawaBylaw followed young muslim women into the underground parking lot where they cornered, harassed, intimidated and terrorised them. This is unacceptable [Ottawa Mayor] @_MarkSutcliffe.”

And in this video posted on Instagram, Ottawa4.Palestine further explains: “Ottawa Police continues to harass our community. They followed one of our community members to the parking lot & blocked the entrance. They refused to let us through. …Meanwhile, the underground parking they were harassing one of our community members, refusing to give their names. …Instead of putting our tax dollars in combatting food insecurity and homelessness, the City continues wasting tax dollars on anti-Palestinian racism during peaceful protests.”

Just three days earlier, Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa had warned in an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece: “These protests will continue for the foreseeable future and bylaw’s repressive approach will continue to cause issues. This unreasonable approach will only raise tensions in the community, as well as at demonstrations.”

Hersh further noted: “City council must take leadership in urging the mayor to direct bylaw to cease the harassment of pro-Palestinian protesters, drop these fines and advocate for an approach that is truly ‘fair, equitable and consistent.’”

Municipal human rights obligations

PBI-Canada has also highlighted concerns about the ticketing with respect to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2(b) – Freedom of expression, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 21, as well as General comment No. 37 (2020) on the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21) that specifically notes megaphones.

Canada acceded to the International Covenant on May 19, 1976.

As Nevena Dragicevic and Bruce Porter of Maytree have previously noted: “Crucially, cities and municipalities are not only well positioned to protect and fulfill human rights, they also have an obligation to do so. While the federal government has constitutional authority to ratify international human rights treaties, it can only ensure good faith compliance with its obligations if all orders of government commit to implementing these obligations.”

While we remain concerned that the City of Ottawa fining people for the use of a megaphone is inconsistent with its human rights obligations, we also find it deeply problematic for its officers to follow young, racialized women into an underground parking lot when a ticket, as unwarranted as that may be, could have been issued at the protest itself.

Following this incident, Ottawa Police tweeted, without providing any further specifics about the incident: “Freedom of expression has reasonable limits to protect citizens, property and businesses from disruptive or unlawful activities.”

Ottawa By-law has not publicly explained its actions of February 4.

We also emphasize that these actions by By-law and Police occurred within days of the Order issued on January 26 by the International Court of Justice that says Israel must “take all measures within its power” to prevent all acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention.

Residents who take measures within their power to try to help stop a genocide should not be targeted by By-law and Police for doing so.

We will be present and attentive to the situation at the next mobilization in Ottawa on Saturday February 10 at 5 pm.

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