The Police Services Board — a seven-member civilian oversight body — was set up to serve as a link between the community and Ottawa police. They are supposed to be responsible for setting policy, objectives and goals related to policing in the city, yet on Monday night they appeared as lame ducks — beholden to the police and certainly not representatives of the entire Ottawa community.
The board was presented with a proposal by Brent Bauer of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative to review and develop policy guidelines for prosecution for HIV non-disclosure cases. The proposal was well thought out, respectful and to the point, yet it was dismissed without thought — in fact it was dismissed so quickly it reeks of a decision being made well before the presentation was given.
Henry Jenson, a provincial appointee to the board, was the first member to object to the proposal, saying it was an inappropriate matter for the board. I am not sure if Jenson even heard the proposal — he spent most of the time looking around the room while Bauer was talking.
Police Chief Vern White was no better; he spent the entire presentation fiddling with his water bottle. When given the opportunity to speak, he wasted no time in bringing up the HIV non-disclosure case now before the courts as an example of good police investigative work.
White also told the mainstream media before the meeting that the police would continue to use the term sexual predator in future press releases.
But here’s the thing — the police didn’t use the term sexual predator in the media release. It was used in an email sent by Inspector Joan McKenna, using the listserv of the Police Liaison Committee, to the queer community. McKenna has since apologized for her poor choice of words.
It appears that White has now adopted the term “sexual predator” as a mantra — setting the base line for future press releases. His cavalier attitude about the policy review reflects his attitude toward the concerns of the queer community — that he couldn’t care less.
Councillor Maria McRae also spoke up at the meeting, praising White for his progressive tactics in community policing. Was she praising White for agitating against the city’s crack-pipe program? Or promoting the street-crime unit that regularly targets street-level sex workers in an effort to “clean up” neighbourhoods? Although she spoke of finding a way for Bauer to proceed, her idea of approaching the police board’s lawyer — to find a way for the board to order a policy review — were lost in the board’s negative reaction.
Clearly, the board has no idea of the effects of non-disclosure prosecutions on poz communities — and its members have no desire to learn. They had before them an opportunity to forge a new path in dealing with the criminalization of HIV — an opportunity to revamp policies that would show the progressive side of the Ottawa Police Service.
I agree with Bauer’s calling them cowards, but I fear he is being too kind.
He was dismissed as easily as one swats a fly. He was shown no respect by the board members. A proposal that could potentially help avert a public health crisis was thrown aside in a contemptuous manner.
Bauer is right. Until the Supreme Court overturns the HIV disclosure law, the Police Services Board could, through a policy review, help police and provincial attorneys-general offices across Canada through the development of guidelines for prosecution so that HIV-related matters are handled in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.
However, given the board’s reaction on July 26, that possibility looks extremely remote.