Silence and Fear in Ottawa Canada

On 2 June 2009, an otherwise quiet weekday, the word spread around the Hunt Club Community at warp speed - a body had been found under one of the play structures for young children in Uplands Park. Later that day, a cluster of police around one of our co-ops made it clear to all of us where a victim or suspect had come from.

Three years before there had been a gang murder a few blocks away from the park; over the past summer there had been been several swarming incidents, also a few blocks away, along Paul Anka near a co-op.

Hundreds of local parents take their youngest children to Uplands Park; many grandparents like me also frequent it. Households with young children went into lockdown mode - the park was instantly deserted on the assumption that someone had been murdered and stuffed into their children's play store.

As a Neighbourhood Watch block captain, I tried at the time to find out enough of what had happened to advise my members, and was told by the police, in no uncertain terms, to "move on". Total silence ensued, not a word from the police or from media. Panic spread - was this a drug gang murder in our quiet community? Something even worse? Soon, not just parents of young children, but the entire community was on edge.

Some time later, I located a newspaper reporter who was willing to privately tell me what was going on: a male had committed suicide at the park. The police and Ottawa press have an agreement - suicide is an event that no one is to ever mention, anywhere, under any circumstances.

The problem is, that left a community in panic. And, no one was taking that into account, except Neighbourhood Watch. I issued a statement through NW channels, "The body found in Uplands Park was a suicide, not the victim of an assault". Fortunately, I'm well enough respected here that the community accepted it, and returned to normal. Nothing private was released - although I could have easily found out more details, to this day I don't know the age, let alone name, of the victim. That wasn't necessary in order that my community feel safe.

If people are to feel safe in our community, their feelings have to be taken into account by our police. It's irrelevant that we live in one of the safest communities in one of the safest cities in the world, if people don't feel that way. The police should have issued that notice late the afternoon of the occurrence, when they determined that it was a suicide.

If people are to feel safe in our community, this policy of silence must be changed.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters

Footnote: The morning of 5 August 2015 another body was found, this time a female in nearby Paul Landry Park. Again the community, especially women, were walking scared, not knowing who they could trust. But this time my ward councillor demanded information from the police. By mid-afternoon police had determined that foul play was not suspected. The councillor and I were able to immediately inform the 1000 or so people living next to the park, and to ensure that local news reported it.

Nothing private was ever released, just the information needed for our community to feel safe. Thank you Councillor Brockington. That's the right way to do it.