We’re going backwards in Ottawa. In policing, that is.
Don’t get me wrong. Through the ’90s there was a great leap forward by Ottawa Policing Services in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community and ‘sensitizing’ their members to our lives. In the last few years, this has been extended to trans issues.
But much of this progress was initiated by the person who occupied the chief’s chair two terms ago — Brian Ford. Two chiefs later, the force as a whole is going backward under chief Vernon White.
White’s got a disarmingly humble “average guy” feel to him that comes across even at first blush. And he comes calling with one progressive idea that he champions — restorative justice for First Nations people charged with an offense. Great stuff.
Still, while he’s got the whole city mesmerized with his “oh shucks” routine, and liberals signing on with his restorative justice talk, White is actually guiding the city’s force down a new, far more conservative path.
Take prostitution. Chief Ford, a genuinely and courageously liberal cop, dared to start a discussion about how our city could get a grip on prostitution. Not in a punitive way, which has never worked anywhere unless, like Mao and Castro, you’re prepared to kill them and their clients. No, Ford suggested that we needed to start talking about local brothels or a red-light district to focus the activity, ensure safety of the pros, and minimize the impact across city neighbourhoods. Very good stuff.
But not for Vern White. Now, it’s true that it’s the feds that have the authority to fully legalize prostitution and give cities the power to create red-light zones, and it’s unlikely that our born-again Conservatives will rush to do this.
But White knows the futility of his latest move, creating a special police unit dedicated to harassing prostitutes. Even the force’s own announcements of their work over the summer to clear the streets of prostitutes noted that it’s a short-term solution because the pros always come back.
Equally outrageous is the force’s new policy of taking down the license plates of suspected (not convicted) johns and sending a letter to the home, presumably hoping that the john’s partner opens the letter first. Is OPS really that sleezy?
How about crack pipes? Again, White is a dinosaur. After spending the summer telling progressives (like a meeting of our community) that crack pipes are a health issue, not a policing issue, White has reversed course, with street cops now clearly harassing users as well as dealers. Even before Ottawa’s suburban councillors voted to get out of their part of the crack-pipe distribution program, there were reports of heavy-booted cops crushing pipes underfoot, the same pipes that city staff had given the addict to keep them free of HIV and hepatitis. Reports suggest the cops are getting more comfortable with their boots.
Finally, surveillance. Does our community really believe that it’s a coincidence that one of the first couple of surveillance cameras put up in Ottawa was placed right in the cruising area of Strathcona Park? We may be the first citizens put under special surveillance, but we’re not going to be the last. White is pushing hard for cameras throughout the downtown. That’s an infringement of privacy and personal liberty.
All three of these issues have particular resonance with the queer community. But our own liaison committee to the police is silent on them. Shame on them.
And Vern White is a swell guy to hang with. But he’s taking the low road on at least three issues that require sophisticated solutions, not simplistic rhetoric and power policing. This guy’s a step back in time.