Respect for Police in Ottawa Canada

For years, residents of southern Carson's Grove had used an informal pathway through land owned by the federal government across the Aviation Parkway to their church. Then, part of the land was sold to a developer and houses went up. The path was rerouted along the back of the new properties.

One of the new home owners took exception. Even though the path was on public land, he began turning his hose on people using the path, and repeatedly tried to block it with refuse. As chair of the neighbourhood safety committee, I received numerous complaints from his victims, but my requests to him, and to the NCC who owned the land, were ineffective. Finally, two boys, one of whose mother had been sprayed, walked along the path to the new resident to ask him to stop.

The problem resident promptly phoned the police, screaming that juvenile delinquents were destroying his fence. A police officer arrived, ignored the obvious attributes of a control freak (a back yard with a dozen meticulously arranged garish statues among other things), and arrested the boys. Unfortunately, one boy had a speech disability, and had just had a cast taken off a badly broken ankle. His attempts to explain to the officer were ineffective; he was dragged, desperately trying to protect his still-fragile ankle, a full kilometer to his home. Only then did the officer become aware of the speech disability and the broken ankle. He left the boys in the care of their parents without booking them for an offense.

Of course I heard of this, both from the boys, whom I knew as effective Block Parent for the elementary school up the street, and from the two parents. I contacted a senior Ottawa police officer confidentially to advise him of the excessive force that had been used and that the wrong person had been arrested, in the hope that matters would be quietly corrected.

The result: the arresting officer visited the parents and warned them that if I or they said anything further about the incident they would be arrested and charged. He so scared them both that they literally ran up the street to beg me to comply. (Note that the officer told them that I had contacted the police - as I said, my contact had been in confidence.)

Now a mistake was possible, especially for an officer who had no prior contact with our community and was unaware of the prior problems the homeowner had caused. But visiting the victims to scare them into silence was no mistake. That was deliberate intimidation. Since I had not directly observed any of the arrest or subsequent visit, I felt I had to honour their request. To this day, I regret my decision.

If people are to feel safe in our community, they have to trust our police. In this case, two families lost that trust.

If people are to feel safe in our community, reports of improper decisions and behaviour to our police have to be followed up, not covered up by further victimisation.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters