The Ottawa Police Service is vowing not to tolerate homophobic, misogynistic, or racist messages — including in speeches, gestures or signs — in public places during this week’s Canada Day events, and said they could lead to criminal charges.
During a Canada Day planning update at a meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board Monday night, interim OPS chief Steve Bell was asked by board member Jeff Leiper if police would tolerate homophobic, misogynistic, or racist messages where they were “unaccompanied by otherwise unlawful behaviour.”
“I think the easiest way to answer that is just with a no,” said Bell, vowing to “actively respond to” and investigate hate or bias crime incidents, intimidation or threats.
In an email Tuesday morning, in response to questions from this newspaper about the chief’s comments and planned Canada Day police response, Ottawa Police Service spokesperson Cst. Mike Cudrasov confirmed that “Communicating (words spoken or written, gestures or signs) homophobic, misogynistic, and/or racist messages in a public place will be investigated and can lead to various criminal charges including public incitement of hatred Sec 319(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.
“These will NOT be tolerated.”
Canada Day: Plan for ‘Freedom’ party at Supreme Court is shut down
Ottawa mayor and acting police chief assure residents it’s safe to celebrate Canada Day downtown despite ‘freedom’ protests
Asked if there’s any other action the Ottawa police would take in response to the communication of such messages, aside from investigation and potentially, the laying of charges, OPS said they “will take all appropriate measures in order to prevent the continuation of a criminal offence.”
Responding to Leiper’s question Monday night, Bell said the force has been trying to be very clear about its posture for July 1 — when hundreds of thousands of revellers are expected to visit the downtown Ottawa area for Canada Day celebrations, alongside protestors from various “freedom” groups, organized in part by people affiliated with the “Freedom Convoy” protest that occupied downtown Ottawa earlier this year, and the motorcycle-themed “Rolling Thunder” rally in April.
“Canada Day [is] a very important day to Canadians. It’s a day where we celebrate our country and all the good things in it. But people … when they come, they need to be lawful. And they need to be respectful of our community,” Bell told board members.
“We know the scars our community feels from the days in the end of January, beginning of February, where there was all of the negative interactions with people who were attending and occupying and illegally protesting within our streets. We’ve heard those. We’ve listened to those. And I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt, is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”
If people experience harassment, intimidation or hate-based activities, Bell said they need to contact the Ottawa police. Depending on the threat, they can use 911 for emergency reports, or online or telephone reporting for non-emergency reports, at 613-236-1222 ext. 7300.
Those downtown will also see police officers, Bell noted. “You can also let them know what’s occurring.”
“So there’s many different ways to contact us. Our ask is, if you see something … that you have a concern with, make sure you contact us and we’ll investigate.”