Ottawa
2 min

No Pride in police

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

The mention of one of the most tame, silly, aw-shucks annual Pride Week events has my blood boiling. Want to send me on a long rant? Just say two words.

Pancake. Breakfast.

Why? Okay, we’ve been keeping Xtra readers up-to-date about police behaviour in the recent arrest of a gay man for failing to disclose his HIV status, in particular their HIV-phobic “sexual predator” press release and their badly bungled institutional debrief into the matter.

On July 26, Brent Bauer of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative met with the Police Services Board, the police’s civilian oversight body, and the results were graphically phobic and horrible. No matter how you feel about HIV criminalization, the board was dismissive and hostile.

Among other things, Xtra staffer Noreen Fagan was told that Chief Vern White would use the “sexual predator” tag again in a similar situation. No apologies, just smug back-patting.

The week before Bauer’s ill-fated call for a policy review, Ottawa Police Service (OPS) announced the results of a debrief about how it handled communications during the HIV arrest and its fallout.

The conclusion? We should have asked your opinion, although we would have ignored it.

“I don’t think it would have changed the end result,” Insp Joan McKenna said. “We would still have put out his picture, but there would have been more consultation with the community.”

That’s insulting.

So. Back to the pancake breakfast. It’s become an annual event, with local TV crews tromping out to the police station at 7am on a Monday morning. It’s a great PR moment for the force, highlighting how gay positive and community oriented it is. Each year, the breakfast raises a few hundred dollars for a relatively PC gay charity.

Police-gay relations have seriously ebbed in the last three years. There was the police disruption of HIV-prevention efforts in 2007, via confiscated safer inhalation kits. Then there was the mess they made of the Dixie Landers case.

And now, Chief White is publicly spitting in our faces. It’s pretty clear to me the police have failed to earn a happy-go-lucky photo op this year.

At this point, it’s hypocritical of the police to host it. If they’re serious about a fundraiser for gay community groups, fine. But no cameras this year, no press releases.

For queer groups, this year’s event is, politically speaking, toxic. The Police Liaison Committee to the queer community is implicated, of course. Capital Pride has a stake in it, too, since it’s an “affiliated” event. And Capital Pride (and, strangely enough, the Ten Oaks Project) is implicated in another way, since they’re the recipients of any money raised at the event.

I urge the members of these groups to think deeply about their involvement in a police PR photo op, given recent events.