With a new, rightwing mayor in office and the current police chief retiring, Ottawa's queer community met with its police liaison committee Jan 15 to tell them what they expected of policing.

In a two-hour informal brainstorming session, some 40 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans floated their issues of choice.

Participants covered a lot of territory, from trans issues to park sex, from harassment of crack pipe users to hiring the next police chief. Several participants aired concerns about the priorities and political philosophy of rookie mayor Larry O'Brien's, who sits on the police board.

"I know the mayor has yet to meet with our community," said Jer Dias, Ottawa's Citizen Of The Year for 2005. "I know several leaders are working very hard to get that arranged."

Encountering the mayor at a recent public meeting, Dias extracted a commitment from him to meet the community. The mayor "then referred us to a homophobic member of the staff," says Dias.

Added Terry Stavnyk, "There is a perception this new mayor is not as friendly to the [queer] community as the last mayor, and some think the previous one wasn't friendly enough." The gay community is an "easy target" for a politician who wants to "appease another segment who elected him. We must make sure we're not victims."

With major belt-tightening expected during this year's budget process, could the queer liaison committee be cut? asked one participant.

No, replied David Pepper, a co-founder of the committee and now head of communications for the force. "The liaison committee is not on for cuts because it's been integrated into our core services. This is how we do business."

A major strand of discussion involved appropriate use of police resources and public money.

Several people questioned whether city hall should have set up cameras around a Strathcona Park bathroom, ostensibly to prevent graffiti.

"What kind of fear leads society to install eight security cameras with motion detectors around a park bathroom," asked Larry Rousseau, whom city bylaw officials harassed in 2005 for walking in Strathcona Park with his lover. "The whole approach to security — I'm feeling nervous as a black man, as a gay man."

City hall should spend the money instead on community liaison committees, working with youth and correcting the social problems in society that lead to graffiti, said Stavnyck, Rousseau's lover.

Though there's been much progress in relations between the queer community and the Ottawa Police Service in the past decade, the force's approach to sexuality was questioned.

Dias was unimpressed with the liaison committee's formation of a sub-committee to address park sex issues.

"It's part of our community's culture to engage in park sex," he said. "It's consensual sex and discreet. I know it's against the law" but there are better ways of using police and bylaw resources.

Rick Barnes, an AIDS outreach worker with Pink Triangle Services chimed in. AIDS prevention efforts include outreach to park-sex aficionados, said Barnes, because it's an excellent opportunity to educate about safe sex.

Sending police and bylaw officers to "known cruising places is intimidating," he said. "I'm there to protect these people," he said. Policing has come a long way in Ottawa but "I somehow don't think they get the gay-sex thing. That's something we need to work on."

Dias noted that risk-prevention programs like needle exchanges and crack pipe distribution grew out of the gay community's experience with AIDS prevention. But police chief Vince Bevan opposes this harm-reduction approach and mayor O'Brien has vowed to stop distribution of crack pipes to addicts. Dias wants to see the gay community, and particularly the police liaison committee, fight to preserve them.

"These are programs that we value and we don't want to see them cut," said Dias. "We don't want to have to fight to bring them back because we have other issues now, like [building a queer] community centre."

Adam Graham, gay men's outreach coordinator for AIDS Committee of Ottawa, said that the research shows that harm-reduction strategies, including distributing crack pipes and needles to addicts, reduces disease transmission and death.

"They're beneficial to our community," said Graham.

Rousseau also pointed to harassment of prostitutes. Because of citizen complaints arising from gentrification in areas of the city like Hintonburg and east of the Market, hookers are being moved into other areas and into unsafe situations, he said. That's something that police need to be more sensitive of.

Some community members asked Linda Anderson, the head of bylaw enforcement for the city, to ensure her staff is not targeting posters for community events. Many community groups rely on posters to attract attention to events, and posters for queer events are susceptible to complaints from homophobic or prudish citizens, Anderson was told.

Anderson agreed to discuss the issue with her staff.

Other issues raised included the need for enhanced diversity training of police officers and bylaw staff; rotating officers from all divisions through meetings of the liaison committee so that they get familiar with our community; improving safety in schools, particularly for trans-identified youth; increasing staffing for the hate crimes unit and using their resources to do hate-crimes education; and improving access for disabled queers to bars and events;

Even geography came up for discussion. Trans activist Zelda Marshall wants to see the Ottawa Police Service reach out to bring the Gatineau force into a progressive approach to the queer community.

"I want to be sure Gatineau police are at least as enlightened as the Ottawa police," she said.
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