4 min

Green Party candidate talks harm reduction, sex workers’ rights

Police priorities should be harm reduction: O'Donnell

Green Party candidate for Centretown, Kevin O'Donnell. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin O'Donnell

With Ontario’s provincial election around the corner, one Ottawa candidate says he will defend queer rights, including GSAs and the creation of a gay village in Ottawa. Green Party candidate Kevin O’Donnell is running against Liberal incumbent Yasir Naqvi in Ottawa Centre, the riding where Ottawa’s proposed gay village is located.

Xtra sat down with all four candidates to discuss issues pertinent to members of our community. Below is the interview with Kevin O’Donnell.

O’Donnell, 35, grew up in Ottawa and attended St Patrick’s High School before studying computer science at the University of Waterloo. After living in Vancouver for a while, O’Donnell returned to Ottawa and now lives in Westboro.

Local police priorities have been in the news a lot recently, especially around sex worker sweeps. Police say that they are acting on community complaints, but many of the sex workers actually live in these communities. What should policing priorities be in Ottawa, and is there any way for an MPP to influence police decision-making?

Kevin O’Donnell:
Police priorities should always be harm reduction. Criminal arrests and prosecution play a part in reducing harm. But that is not the only solution to a problem society chooses to address. Police do respond and they prioritize their work by community complaints. But the police need better tools to address those complaints. Having programs to reduce harms in addition to arrests and prosecution is needed.

Xtra: What would you do as MPP to help protect sex workers’ rights?

KD: As an MPP, I would work with groups who are interested in law reform and program creation to address the health and safety risks sex workers in the province face in order to improve or protect public health and safety. Reducing harm is important.

Xtra: HIV-nondisclosure laws are increasing in their scope — we have a high-profile case going on now in Ottawa. There is an Ontario working group trying to get prosecutorial guidelines in place for the Crown and police to follow. What is your take on the HIV-nondisclosure laws?

KD: Having a consultation where the community can offer input to the working group that is looking into cases where HIV disclosure is required would help and allow everyone involved (ie, people living with HIV, police and courts) to have an explicit understanding of when disclosure is required. Going forward, those guidelines can be refined, but it is important for everyone to have a common understanding for fairness and awareness. As your MPP, I would be happy to work with the community to have the guidelines updated as situations change.

Xtra: What would you do as an MPP to help push these guidelines?

KD: As a working MPP, I would update the community with the current status of the guidelines and invite people to contact me so I can bring their advice to the government. And there is also the possibility of community meetings to solicit input from the community when updates occur.

Xtra: Ontario has a Safe Schools Strategy designed to help children to learn in a safe and secure environment. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has diversity clubs and gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in their schools to help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. The Catholic School Board, however, does not permit GSAs, although some do have diversity clubs or multicultural clubs. What can the provincial government do to make sure Catholic schools are safe and inclusive for queer students?

KD: I feel the safety of students is already in place. However, for students to feel included they must be given the opportunity to express themselves. I support all students who want to form a GSA in any publicly funded school, either at a Catholic school or a public board school. When students want to create a GSA to support their sense of inclusion, I believe that should be their right.

Xtra: How can you as an MPP ensure that your local Catholic schools are protecting queer students?

KD: As MPP, I would support GSAs in all local schools and bring that positive support to board and committee meetings when the issue is being addressed. I would not stand to have the issue brushed aside.

Xtra: What do you imagine your role would be as MPP for Ottawa Centre? How does the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community fit into it?

KD: My role as MPP in Ottawa Centre is to be available to hear concerns from everyone in the community and advocate on their behalf. For the LGBT community, it would be my job to be accessible and aware of the concerns unique to LGBT issues and make progress in those areas.

Xtra: Do you support the Village initiative? Why or why not?

KD: I do support the Village issue. When I lived in Vancouver, the Davie St Village was both a great place to live and a destination for shoppers. I believe the Bank St Village will be the same, good for residents and thriving local businesses.

Xtra: The federal government has announced another three years of the cost-shared Affordable Housing Initiative. What will your party do to play a direct role in affordable housing once that program has run out?

KD: The Green Party budget calls for holding spending at current levels in order to fight the ongoing deficit. We would maintain Ontario’s current level of participation until the deficit is addressed, and we can shift budgets away from growing interest payments and into programs for people.

Xtra: Community-based non-profit housing is part of our local infrastructure; what will you do to improve funding for repair and improvements to existing housing?

KD: The Green Party is committed to an aggressive energy retrofit program that allows co-ops, homeowners, tenants and small businesses to save money on energy bills. Lowering energy bills puts money back in people’s pockets right away and over the long term.