City of Ottawa officials miss golden opportunity to mend fences with LGBTQ community

City of Ottawa officials miss golden opportunity to mend fences with LGBTQ community
Posted on July 7, 2017 | James O'Grady | Written on July 7, 2017
Letter type:

Did I read that correctly? Did Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau actually tweet that he was going to ignore/defy the official rules set out by the organizing committee of Capital Pride by wearing his uniform during the Pride Parade this year? 

Sometimes I wonder what world City officials live in. Clearly not one requiring understanding or respect. Apparently Bordeleau thinks its ok for the Police to ignore the rules. Can I do that at the Ottawa BluesFest? I'd really like to bring my own drinks. I don't like their choices and they don't allow you to add ice to your drinks so they are often luke warm. Is there anything worse than a warm alcoholic beverage? 

I realize this analogy is a little different, but, if cops don't have to follow the rules, why should any of us? The answer is because we live in a civil society based on the rule of law and on civility (respect for one another) upheld--not ignored, abused or punted--by the police. 

Yet, once again, City of Ottawa officials--including our Mayor Jim Watson, Police Chief Charles Bordeleau and City councillor Allan Hubley showed their true colours. For all the "inclusion" rhetoric they put forth, they failed to understand that the issue of whether or not police should be allowed to wear their uniform in the Pride Parade is not about the police.

That's right, its about the gay community. If it were about the police, they would be banned altogether. The Police are not being banned, they are still invited and encouraged to participate, just not to wear the very 'symbol of oppression' that still haunts many in the LGBTQ community. Police are being asked to be aware of their history and to be sensitive to the feelings and wishes of an abused community. How is that not inclusive? Capital Pride is trying to ensure everyone feels welcome, especially their own members, since it is their parade. Its a minor request given the police forces' history of abuse toward gay people in Ontario.

Just as clothes do not make a man, police uniforms don't define police officers. In fact, it's the uniform that IS the problem. It de-humanizes people, both the police officer in the uniform and the civilians around them. I personally prefer it when police officers dress down. It makes them more approachable, more human, more friendly. And, its going to be hot. When I attended Pride parades in Toronto in 2006 and 2007, the police wore t-shirts and shorts because it was very hot. If they could do it then, why not now?

This issue is about the symbolism of the 'police uniform' and the abuse the LGBTQ community has suffered at the hands of police in uniform, nothing more. To suggest otherwise is to play politics with it.

Since much of the abuse happened decades ago, the ill feelings that linger toward the police in the LGBTQ community are not directed toward police officers today but toward the uniform--a symbol of opression. These feelings are similar to those who suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands priests, teachers and other authority figures in their youth. Its the feeling of always living in fear, of not trusting anyone, especially people in authority. Its the feeling of being robbed of part of your life and of your soul. And, its a feeling that never goes away. 

So, instead of expressing empathy, understanding and respect for those who have been abused, our City officials reacted like their egos had been bruised. "Pull their funding" cried Hubley, demanding punitive action. I'm going to wear my uniform anyway Bordeleau tweeted. Even Jim Watson and the gay police officer who lamented not being able to wear his uniform in the parade, missed the boat. Both put their own interests ahead of that of the larger LGBTQ community. It was a sad day for Ottawa all around. 

If the police don't like the rules, they can protest by not participating. Now we have a situation where Ottawa Police are going to break the rules set out by an official organizing body. Which means we could see private security preventing uniformed police officers from marching. Or worse yet, Bordeleau's decision may lead to police officers, who wear their uniforms, becoming targets during the parade.

With all the anti-police violence going on around the world right now, G-20 protests and cops being assassinated in the US (July 5), intentionally making police targets is not wise. In their responses to this situation Police Chief Bordeleau, Mayor Watson and Councillor Hubley missed another golden opportunity to begin to heal the rifts that exists between the police and the gay community in Ottawa.

Here's my advice to Bordeleau and the Mayor on what they should have said:

"We understand Capital Pride's concern although we don't agree with it. Nevertheless, we will respect and abide by the rules by dressing down. I hope our members will come up with novel costumes and outfits, and embrace the LBGTQ community on their own terms so we can begin to mend the rifts that exist now."

How easy would it have been to turn the other cheek and by doing so turn a negative situation into a positive one? All they needed to do was to show some respect. A little respect and a little understanding would have gone a long way. 

About The Author

I am an entrepreneur, communications professional, school teacher and community activist living in Ottawa, Ontario. I am also a hockey goaltender, political hack and most importantly, an advocate for grassroots,... More

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