Two men who oversee the police’s regular meetings with the queer community admitted that the group is failing to connect with Ottawa’s gays.
David Pepper, the police’s director of community relations, conceded that the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community needed to do a better job at staying in contact with Ottawa’s queers at the Police Liaison Committee Jun 18 meeting.
Darryl Lim, the gay man who co-chairs the committee, echoed Pepper’s thoughts in an interview with Capital Xtra afterwards.
“I acknowledge that we are a little out of touch with the [queer] community on the grassroots level, but I’m not going to say that we’re completely out of touch — we’re not,” says Lim. “But we definitely have ways to improve ourselves to be a lot more in touch with the community.”
Pepper has also acknowledged the group’s shortfalls.
“I think there are some gaps, but there have always been gaps. The liaison committee does not attract people to do a lot of its work in good times. By definition people will only be attracted to these committees in times of crisis,” says Pepper.
Meanwhile organizers lashed out in the fallout of a tense meeting regarding the May 26 beating at Centretown Pub which left Michael Marcil (aka Dixie Landers) in a weeklong coma.
The atmosphere at the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community on Jun 18 was markedly different than the information session held just two weeks earlier.
While over 80 people gathered at the first meeting at the Jack Purcell Community Centre to demand information about Marcil’s beating, only 30 people, mostly police and committee members, came to the regularly-scheduled Jun 18 meeting of the Police Liaison Committee.
Gay and lesbian Ottawans openly heckled police speakers at the Jun 5 information session once it became clear that they would not get answers to their questions.
There was clearly a divide between the community members demanding answers at the earlier information session and the committee meeting later.
Long-time member of the committee Joanne Law suggested that the critics at the Jun 5 meeting hadn’t put in their time volunteering for the committee.
“Where are the people who were complaining about things on a regular basis? Where the hell are they?” she asked.
But the announcement of the Jun 18 Police Liaison Committee meeting only went out a few days before the event, according to activist (and Capital Xtra columnist) Ariel Troster. She was at the first meeting but says she only heard about the Jun 18 meeting “by chance at the last minute.”
“People have limited time to go to meetings and I think that a lot of people came away from the last one feeling frustrated,” says Troster.
“It seemed pretty clear at the last meeting that the police didn’t have a lot of information for us. If it seemed like they would have substantially more information, I would have made more of an effort to attend [the Jun 18 meeting].”
Organizers blame the community’s ignorance of police procedures for their anger at the committee.
“[Investigations] can take long, far too long,” Pepper told Capital Xtra.
“No one likes how long they take, the police included, but they are doing it in the context of a lot of rules … Some of the questions asked at the meeting were absolutely acceptable and good questions to ask; unfortunately the answers are not available until later. But there were good questions and they should be answered.”
At the same time, Pepper was concerned with the reaction of individuals at the first meeting.
“I found that troubling, that people felt they had the right to private information, and when told that they didn’t have the right, they condemned the people abiding by their code of ethics and the law. The gay and lesbian movement has always fought for the right to privacy. The community would be rightly angry if information was released that jeopardized the investigation.”
Chair of the committee Darryl Lim has also taken offence to some of the fallout of the incident at Centretown Pub, in particular Lim has issues with questions raised in the pages of Capital Xtra that he sees as a question of his abilities as chair.
“Your editor or publisher [Gareth Kirkby] has been questioning the leadership of the committee and I see that as a personal attack. I feel that is a personal attack on my own integrity, saying you question whether I can be fair,” says Lim.
“Capital Xtra hasn’t been around the table every single meeting. This is becoming a big issue, but at the same time this was a bar fight. It’s not my place to speculate and I think the community should just be patient,” he adds.
Concerns have also been voiced that the committee is out of touch, and that a number of members of the committee are more interested in pursuing a career with the cops than representing the community. It was announced at the Jun 18 meeting that one of the police liaison vice-chairs has been accepted into the process of becoming an officer. The announcement comes six months after previous vice-chair Christine Schulz was recruited.
“I’ve noticed that people have called into question the motivation of members of the committee who also have an interest in being police officers. People talk about that as a conflict of interest, which I find plainly bizarre,” says Pepper.
“To have gays and lesbians who want to become police officers actively engaged in the Police Liaison committee, and somehow some people see this as a conflict. I see this as a celebration.”