3 min

Police presence divides Ottawa’s trans communities

Trans Day of Remembrance will start at police headquarters -- and Minto Park

Although trans people and their allies will march to Parliament Hill in solidarity for the Trans Day of Remembrance Nov 20, a rift between organizers means the march will start from two different locations.

The sticking point? The involvement of the Ottawa Police Services.

One group will meet at the Ottawa police station on Elgin St, where a flag designed to commemorate the day will be unfurled. Speeches will be given by mayor-elect Jim Watson, Paramedic superintendent Paul Morneau, Gatineau police chief Mario Harel, Ottawa police chief Vern White and Amanda Ryan, one of the organizers of the march.

“This is history in the making because we have never had that kind of recognition the police are giving us,” says Ryan. “This is the first time in Canada we have had any kind of formal recognition for just the transgender community. We have been combined with Pride on many occasions, with flag-raisings and formal recognition, but never just the transgender community. So this is special.”

A second group will start at Minto Park, skipping the police portion of the event. Melanie Pasztor is a lead organizer of the Minto Park group.

“Many people had concerns with the TDOR march starting at the police station,” says Pasztor. “Many of the people we are remembering on Trans Day of Remembrance have died by the hands of police officers elsewhere in the world. A lot of people are feeling uncomfortable at being at the police station, whether it be for their political views or their comfort level in general.”

Both events will end at Parliament Hill, where MP Bill Siksay will speak about his private member’s bill, C-389, which would include gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Pasztor says that Ryan and the organizers were approached with a proposal to keep the flag-raising at the police station but have the march leave from Minto Park. When the proposal was refused, Pasztor and others set about organizing a different starting point.

“Because we want to encourage as many people as possible to show up at Parliament to promote the Bill C-389, we took it upon ourselves to organize a separate rally at Minto Park. We are not against what is happening at the police station; we are just seeking an alternative meeting point for people who don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason to start at the police station,” says Pasztor.

Among the concerns is the high-profile arrest of an HIV-positive gay man for not disclosing his serostatus before having unprotected sex. In May, Ottawa police sent out a press release referring to him as a “sexual predator.”

The Minto Park event’s Facebook page also cites that the use of the term ‘transgender’ is out of touch with the greater community: “The event failed to use language that included all members of Ottawa’s trans communities. Some of us are transgender, some are transsexual, some are gender-queer and some are two-spirits,” it reads.

Ryan says that the rift over the use of words is an argument that has been around forever. She says both terms refer to the entire trans or transgender community, but the term “trans” is newer and not as easily recognizable by the public.

“It’s a newer term and it’s going to take over eventually from transgender as the catch-all term for our community. It’s just not there yet,” says Ryan. “We went with transgender as we are not trying to influence people here in the community — we are trying to influence the general public.”

Despite the different starting points, both Ryan and Pasztor say that both marches will merge at Minto Park and all participants will walk together to Parliament Hill.

“The plan is to merge with the march from the police station so we arrive at Parliament together, so that we still have a degree of solidarity,” says Pasztor.

Ryan is encouraging people to start from whichever point they are comfortable with. For her, the goal of TDOR is to show a united front among the trans community.

“We have been encouraging people to come to whichever one they are most comfortable with,” says Ryan. “Why not get onboard with everybody and make sure that we end up with a march that is going to benefit the transgendered community as a whole. I want a positive image of this community presented to the public,” says Ryan.

TDOR will end in the evening with a vigil at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin St at 7pm.

TDOR flag-raising ceremony at Ottawa Police Headquarters, 474 Elgin St.
Nov 20, 1pm

Rally at Minto Park, Elgin St
Nov 20, 1:30pm
*both marches merge at Minto Park and proceed to a rally on Parliament Hill

Vigil at Human Rights Monument on Elgin St
Nov 20, 7pm