Ottawa police remove demonstrators from downtown intersection following two-day call for action
OTTAWA -- Thirty-six hours after several advocacy groups started blocking a busy downtown Ottawa intersection to call for justice for Black and Indigenous people, Ottawa police broke up the demonstration early Saturday morning.
Twelve people are facing charges after Ottawa police moved in at 3:30 a.m. to remove the group from the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street.
"We deserve better than this, to be woken up in the middle of the night to be told our people, our family, our sisters, our brothers, are arrested," said Dahabo Omer of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition.
The demonstrators were removed from the area two hours after the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition tweeted it would be meeting with members of the Ottawa Police Services Board.
"What a disgusting tactic to promise community meetings in the morning with city council and Ottawa Police Services Board and then arrest us in the dead of night. Betrayal!" said the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition on Twitter.
Ottawa Police Services Board Chair and Councillor Diane Deans says the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition "declined" to meet with officials following the police action overnight. Deans, Councillor Rawlson King and police services board member Daljit Nirman were scheduled to meet with members of the coalition at 12 p.m. at Ottawa City Hall.
"I, along with my board colleagues, agreed to meet with members of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition understanding that dialogue is essential in resolving differences and finding a path forward," said Deans in a statement on social media.
"Regrettably, following the apprehension of demonstrators early this morning by the Ottawa Police Service, the community members have since declined to meet."
Deans adds while the board understands the public's concern with the decision to remove the demonstrators, "the board cannot interfere in the operational decisions of the service."
"The police make operational decisions based on risk assessments and ensuring the safety of the public."
In a statement, Ottawa police said the demonstration disrupted regular traffic and blocked a route for emergency responders, causing "multiple safety issues."
"Police offered demonstrators multiple locations to relocate the demonstration," police said in a statement at 5:26 a.m.
"After multiple warnings to the demonstrators, this morning at 3:30 a.m., Ottawa police removed demonstrators from the area and laid multiple charges against 12 individuals."
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition posted video on social media of dozens of officers at the site overnight.
In the video, the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition says police "moved in closer and closer. They did not let us clean up our belongings."
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition said the scheduled meeting with Deans and other members of the Ottawa Police Services Board was a good first step, but the overnight move to break-up the demonstration felt like a "betrayal."
"We saw a good step in the right direction when the meetings were planned to get our demands met, but when we saw what happened last night, or over the past morning at 3:30 a.m. with our innocent and peaceful protesters getting arrested, we saw this as a deep betrayal," said Ifrah Yusuf, co-chair of the coalition.
The protest, a call to action for Black and Indigenous rights, started Thursday afternoon at city hall before making its way to Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street. It was organized by several groups, including the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition and the KZ Land Protectors.
Organizers say the demonstration is a show of solidarity between Anishinabeg and Black Lives. It is also a call to action, with organizers listing 10 demands including a freeze of the Ottawa Police budget, changes within the education and health care systems.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, a group of people gathered outside the Ottawa Police Service headquarters on Elgin Street. "We will mobilize until all arrested protesters are released and all charges are dropped," said the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition on Twitter.
At 10 a.m., dozens of people filled Elgin Street in front of the Ottawa Police Service headquarters, forcing police to close Elgin between Catherine and Agyle Streets. The road reopened just before 2 p.m.
The group chanted, "Black Lives Matter," "Indigenous Lives Matter", "No Justice, No Peace," and "No racist Ottawa Police."
"We were really disappointed, and it just kind of shows their true colours and why we were doing this," said Celine Debassige.
Councillor Shawn Menard tweeted the group was scheduled to meet with some Councillors on Saturday.
The intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street is open for traffic.
The demonstration for Black and Indigenous lives began on Thursday afternoon at City Hall, with the group then camping out in the intersection near the University of Ottawa
"When you think about the types of racism that exist today, there's different levels," said Victoria Marchand, a community member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation. "We're looking at a real systemic issue."
The protest started with some tense moments Thursday afternoon. A video posted online shows a vehicle driving through the crowd as dozens blocked the intersection. An organizer said Friday afternoon that one member of the group had gone for X-rays as a result.
The demonstration also comes following news that the provincial Crown will not appeal the acquittal of Ottawa Police Const. Daniel Montsion. In a release, the Justice for Abdirahman coalition called the decision "cowardly," saying it "officially sanctions police violence and white supremacy against Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and people with disabilities in Ottawa."
In an emailed statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said:
“The Crown’s right of appeal from an acquittal is limited to errors of law, and does not include errors relating to factual matters. After a thorough review of the judge’s decision and the legal aspects of this case, the Crown has concluded that there is no legal basis upon which to appeal the acquittal.”
- With files from CTV's Matt Skube and Michael Woods