Ottawa police 'responded appropriately' to maintain public safety during dress code protest, chief says
Ottawa's interim police chief is defending the police response to a dress code protest outside a French Catholic secondary school on Friday, saying officers "responded appropriately with the intention of maintaining public safety."
Interim Chief Steve Bell outlined the police response to the protest at École secondaire catholique Béatrice-Desloges in a memo to members of the Ottawa Police Services Board on Sunday morning.
Approximately 400 students were protesting a dress code "blitz" by senior staff on Thursday, when the temperature hit 30 C. Video circulating on social media of one person being arrested prompted questions from elected officials and the public about why police responded to the protest.
Ottawa Police Services Board member and Coun. Jeff Leiper said he had spoken with police to "express my disagreement with physically taking control of the youth even if trespassing."
"I don't immediately see the need to have escalated the situation.”
Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi said the police actions "severely impacts" the public's trust in police.
"The Ottawa Police Services Board needs to ask some important questions, and show transparency," Naqvi said on Twitter.
In a memo to board members, Bell says calls from the school and a member of the public "prompted a legitimate police response" to the protest outside the school.
At 11:30 a.m., the Ottawa Police Communications Centre received a call from school staff about a protest at the school.
"The staff member described a dangerous situation with students at the side of the road and cars moving past them at a high rate of speed," Bell said. "There were concerns from the school staff about the safety of the students and officers were asked to come to the scene for traffic management. This call prompted a police response."
Bell said a member of the public called at 11:40 a.m. expressing concern there were students on the street, and a "third and final call" was received through 911 from school staff asking for more police to attend.
"The caller believed that people's safety was at risk," said Bell.
In a letter to parents on Saturday, Marc Bertrand, Director of Education for the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, said police arrived on scene to "ensure the safety of students" after a number of students were on the road during the protest.
The interim police chief says "multiple officers" were on scene to manage traffic and keep students off the roadway, adding "the protest was kept peaceful and Béatrice-Desloges students were kept on school property."
"Officers attempted on multiple occasions to deescalate and calm the situation, however, in some cases they were unsuccessful," Bell said.
"The challenges the officers faced were from youths who did not attend the school and who were repeatedly crossing the roadway to the protest and agitating the crowd. Two teenage males in particular were walking back and forth across the road. These two were repeatedly asked to stop crossing the roadway and obstructing traffic."
Bell says at one point, a large number of students flooded the roadway following one of the two youths across the road, and officers "feared that this could escalate to injury."
"An officer was approached by a school staff member who advised the two youths were not students at the school and were not allowed on the property," Bell wrote.
"The two youths were advised by the officer at least five times they were not to attend the property and had to remain off the roadway on the opposite side of the road."
One of the youths was arrested at the scene and later released. Police told CTV News Ottawa on Friday the youth, not a student at the school, was arrested for causing a disturbance and trespassing. Bell said a parent of the youth was contacted by officers and notified of his arrest and unconditional release.
No tickets or charges were issued during the protest, according to police.
Bell tells the Ottawa Police Services Board he understand the community's concern about the approach taken by school officials and the police response.
"The police response to a safety issue and the actions of school staff are separate," Bell said, adding officers played no role or part in the school dress code inspections.
"The calls from the school and a member of the public prompted a legitimate police response. Officers are required to respond to these types of calls where the safety of youths, or other members of the public, is at risk."
Bell adds once on scene, officers took "appropriate actions" to keep people safe, blocking roads and attempting to keep students and other youths off the roadway.
"Our review of the call finds that our members in the Communications Centre and the patrol officers on the road responded appropriately with the intention of maintaining public safety."
The Ottawa Police Services does not have a school resource officer at Béatrice-Desloges.