In October, Stewart was stopped by police for wearing rubber gear and says he sent Constable Walter Duhme, of the diversity and race relations section of the Ottawa police, an email detailing both incidents but did not receive a response.
The reigning Mister Rubber Ottawa says his rights were violated when police recently detained him at Remic Rapids because he was wearing rubber gear.
Steve Stewart frequently dons his latex gear, including a full gas mask, and ventures around his Tunney’s Pasture neighbourhood. But on Nov 22, Stewart was followed by a plainclothes, off-duty officer who then called police.
“I took off my mask, then . . . [a uniformed officer who arrived at the scene] started going off on me, saying Halloween was over,” Stewart says.
He says the off-duty officer who made the call said he did so because Stewart was a danger to himself and was scaring women and children. Stewart says that at the time, he was in the Ottawa River up to his ankles, listening to music and enjoying the mild weather, and there were no women or children present.
The uniformed officer took down Stewart’s personal information, Stewart says, and told him that his outfit was “not normal and frightens people.”
Stewart says the officer told him police frequently deal with perverts and sexual assaults at Remic Rapids.
“I told him I understood that I looked out of the ordinary and they were just doing their job,” Stewart says, “but I was, in fact, keeping to myself and that I frequented the area dressed like this on a regular basis and got more positive attention than negative.”
Stewart says the officer replied by saying, “No you don’t” and used words like “normal and abnormal.”
“I told him he was being condescending and asked to speak with the other officer who had shown up,” Stewart says.
By this time, he says, four police cars and five officers had arrived at the scene.
Stewart says the second officer he spoke with was understanding and listened to his explanation that he is part of the local fetish community and is the reigning Mister Rubber. The second officer told Stewart he was not engaging in illegal activity but suggested Stewart not wear his gas mask in public.
“I feel like my rights were not looked after,” Stewart says. “There are two sides to every story, and they made a point to get theirs across: that they were looking out for the safety of the people. However, it wasn’t just anyone that called in; it was the off-duty officer that called in and then the four of them were ganging up on me. What about my rights to go out wearing what I want?”
In the future, he says, he will refrain from wearing a full mask in public and will stay close to his home.
“I’m not going to push it. But I don’t want to feel defeated or be finger-wagged, saying I’m some pervert or criminal when they have, in fact, told me I’m not doing anything illegal,” he says. “If I’m told it’s illegal and I’m not allowed to, then I won’t.”
Michael Tattersall, Leather Pride’s producer, says Stewart’s case is an example of authorities fearing the unusual.
“In our culture, people are made to feel bad about expressing their true selves,” Tattersall says. “In general . . . [police officers] do not like things that are not black and white; shades of grey scare them.”
Meanwhile, Denis Schryburt, co-chair of the Ottawa police GLBT liaison committee, says that although he had not heard of the incident, he plans to connect with Stewart, as well as Inspector Joan McKenna, the committee co-chair, to discuss the incident.
Constable Henri Lanctot, with the media relations section of the Ottawa police service, says that although wearing a gas mask is not a criminal offence, officers must interview a masked person.
“It is peculiar, for sure,” Lanctot says. “Unless the person is involved in some type of training exercise, we have to . . . find out why they are wearing a gas mask. They may have a medical condition and there may be something in the air. We have to look at all the information and interview that person.”
Lanctot says police cannot locate any record of a call to Remic Rapids on the date of Stewart’s detainment.
Stewart says he feels no animosity toward police for doing their jobs; however, he hopes no one else in the fetish community will have to endure a similar situation.
“I’m not trying to make a big stink and get anyone in trouble,” he says. “I don’t think anyone should have to feel ashamed. I just want to see fairness and respect for my freedom to express myself.”