The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is urging people to come forward after an apparent series of attacks in the Village and Centretown.
Inspector John McGetrick, police co-chair of the OPS GLBT liaison committee, told Daily Xtra it’s hard to provide details because so far none of the victims have spoken to police, but says the attacks appear to be motivated by homophobia.
“I don’t have a lot of details because they haven’t been officially reported, so everything the police have heard is through members of our GLBT committee, but apparently there’s been four incidents now in the last five weeks, the latest being [Feb 27], all in Centretown and all either in the late pm or early am hours,” McGetrick says.
On Feb 28, the OPS GLBT liaison committee posted a message on their Facebook page urging community members to “use caution when walking home after bar hours or late at night” and to “report any suspicious activity immediately to the police.” The notice also said the liaison committee and the OPS “have been made aware of certain events that have impacted the GLBT community, in particular, the Village and surrounding Centretown area.”
Gary Leger, community co-chair of the liaison committee, said some community members objected to the Facebook notice as being too vague, and questioned what police are doing about the assaults.
“One of the reasons the information’s so vague is because no one wants to come forward to discuss it,” Leger says. “We’re in a Catch-22. I get people saying that police aren’t doing anything. Police are, but they can only go with what’s coming forward, and if the information’s not coming forward [then] everybody’s stuck in that limbo. It’s a bit frustrating.”
Leger says that, except for one person, he hasn’t spoken to the victims of the attacks, but has been approached by second or third parties who have heard about the attacks and are concerned about community safety.
From a policing point of view, McGetrick says speaking first-hand to the victims is vital.
“We increased our police presence in the area [Feb 27] Friday night, but it’s very limited to what we can do without details and without an actual complaint,” McGetrick says. “Only the victims know what actually happened and we need to hear from them to facilitate an investigation.”
Leger says that when he spoke directly to one of the victims and encouraged the person to come forward, it didn’t work.
“I respect the individual’s right to privacy, that they don’t want to bring it forward, but the biggest concern that I’m left with is if you bring the information forward you’re at least trying to prevent it from happening to someone else,” Leger says.
McGetrick says he’s appealing to the public because the level of violence in the attacks concerns him.
“Just based on only what I’ve heard third-hand, the level of violence was very concerning,” he says. “That’s really why I see an urgency. I fully appreciate folks [being] hesitant to want to talk. That happens to all victims. You’re talking about your personal life quite often to a stranger, but keep in mind if you do have the courage to come chat with us you may be preventing someone else getting attacked further down the road.”
McGetrick says that although the relationship between police and the LGBT community has “improved dramatically” over the years, barriers still exist. He wants community members to know that police are sensitive to how hard it is to come forward.
“It’s really important that they know that the ball’s in their court,” he says. “If at any time they don’t want to proceed early in the process, then we don’t. If they come and talk to an officer and explain what happened and make a report, if they tell us they don’t want to proceed, we will honour that request.”
The exception to that is later in the process, if an arrest has been made and charges have been laid, by then it’s in the court’s hands, McGetrick says.
If a person doesn’t want to talk to a police officer, either in person or over the phone, there are crisis workers who can offer support to survivors of violence, he says.
“I know there’s a lot of wonderful groups in the community that help out as well, but we have our own victim crisis workers,” McGetrick says. “If they want that to be their first step, then by all means, at least we can offer them support even if they don’t want to report. We want to help and support and I fully respect that the decision to report is ultimately theirs.”
Mike Tattersall, who was a Capital Pride marshal in 2013, has also been urging people to come forward. Tattersall says he’s spoken to three of the victims and encouraged them to go to police.
“I tried to convince them that reporting it does not mean laying charges or you have to go to court, does not mean anything but letting the police know it happened,” Tattersall says. “Also I suggest their reporting can make police investigations easier and it will help stop this from happening to other people, other friends of theirs.”
Since he hasn’t spoken to the victims, McGetrick doesn’t want to be more specific about the location of the attacks, but Leger and Tattersall say the victims they spoke to were attacked after leaving a pub in the Village.
McGetrick says he’s hopeful people will come forward when they hear they can talk to police on their own terms, without making commitments.
“I’m in my 29th year of policing. If we’ve heard about four, there could very well have been more,” he says of the attacks. “If we’ve had four, we don’t want five. We don’t want six. We don’t want any more, and I think that’s a key message.”