Denis Schryburt has been intricately involved with the gay community ever since he marched in Ottawa’s first Pride parade 25 years ago. Today Schryburt is regional director for the Ontario Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the vice-president of Pink Triangle Services (PTS) and the newly elected co-chair of the Police Liaison Committee to the gay, lesbian, bi and trans communities.
Schryburt was elected in November 2010. The committee structure puts one member of the queer community and one police officer at the head of the group, as co-chairs; Schryburt will join forces with Inspector Joan McKenna.
Restoring faith in the liaison committee is a tall order. In May, the committee forwarded a police press release naming an HIV-positive man a “sexual predator” for allegedly failing to disclose his serostatus before having sex. In response, Bruce House and the Ten Oaks Project turned down the proceeds of a liaison breakfast held during Pride Week. In November, some members of the trans community refused to begin Trans Day of Remembrance at Ottawa police headquarters, citing, among other things, the “sexual predator” release.
“I want this liaison committee to really be a liaison committee,” says Schryburt. “I want the Ottawa Police Services side and the community side to really work together.”
Schryburt is not new to the liaison committee. For the past year he attended the monthly meetings as a representative of PTS. When Marion Steele stepped down as co-chair in November, Schryburt saw the opportunity to become more involved. He felt that as co-chair he would get to know more of the community members, get a grasp on what issues are on the table and have the opportunity to strengthen the committee.
“I would like to see this committee grow because it has a lot of growth potential. I think it can grow into something where we can do more than just sit around the table and complain, discuss or say our point of view and then go home and forget about it,” he says.
Schryburt’s first step is to open the committee to other gay organizations and a wider representation of the community.
“I think we need to get more people around the table, because right now we have the same people. They are great people and they represent the amazing associations that this city has. But we need to get more people around the table so that we can get a diverse representation — so that we can represent everyone,” he says.
Schryburt also has plans to set up a quick response team to deal with situations where immediate police action is required.
“I understand that they [Ottawa Police Services] have to react quickly sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot consult [with the liaison committee] before they react,” he says.
Schryburt sees his role as twofold — as a moderator for the meetings and an advocate for the community.
“Logistically, my role is to moderate and help chair the meetings, to make sure everyone has a voice, that they get a chance to speak, to see that issues are brought up and not swept under the carpet,” he says. “I also see it as an advocate for the community, to make sure that the community is being heard at the table and not just those who are involved with the Ottawa Police Services.”
Schryburt says he will be a strict co-chair. His priority will be to get the business part of each meeting over as quickly as possible to leave time for a discussion period at the end. He is also adamant that he and McKenna will work as a team to create an environment that will allow everyone’s voice to be heard.
“Hopefully together Joan and I can get this committee going again,” he says. “It is always the same people around the table, the same issues, and everybody has their agendas. But if we can get more people around the table, we can get more voices.”