Police officers detained Ottawa’s Mister Rubber at Remic Rapids last year because they were concerned he was going to commit suicide or bioterrorism, said one officer Jan 21.
Wayne Russet, an RCMP aboriginal and ethnic liaison officer, says police were mostly worried about Steve Stewart’s safety when they called for backup support after discovering him walking in the water at Tunney’s Pasture, a popular cruising neighbourhood west of Parliament Hill.
“He was walking . . . in the water, back and forth. So was he preparing to commit suicide – going in so far, then backing off – coming out? Was he losing the urge to do it? That’s what the officers had to respond to and that’s what they were thinking about the whole time,” Russet said, noting that Stewart’s outfit also caused concern.
“He was wearing biohazard boots and biohazard gloves. And with the state of alert right now all across Canada . . . with issues of biochemistry and bio materials floating around, the loss of some of it, it is a big concern.”
Russet addressed Stewart’s concerns at a regular meeting of the Ottawa Police Service GLBT liaison committee, which took up Stewart’s complaint against the officers after he reported the incident.
On Nov 22, an off-duty police officer called for backup when he found Stewart in the water. Stewart said the officer described his outfit and his activities at the river using words such as “normal” and “abnormal.”
But, Russet said, once officers discovered Stewart was harmless, there was no issue.
Stewart says he is satisfied with how the committee dealt with his complaint. “Maybe it has worked out for the best that it did happen to me rather than someone who’s new to this. It might have made them ashamed. They might have – they might have committed suicide because of it,” he says. “I’ve met people recently who share the same interests I do, and they say they’re afraid to go out in public and they don’t know how people will react. Maybe this will change things a bit, and I’m glad that I’m creating some awareness.”
He says he had been going out for walks in full rubber gear in the area for a few months before the incident occurred.
“I feel that’s what I do with my role with Mr Rubber Ottawa, and I feel that’s why I was chosen for it, was to create awareness and educate, and I think that this is a perfect example of that,” he says.
He says coming forward to the committee – which, among other things, aims to get officers to respond to members of the LGBTQ community in an informed and sensitive way – has created a positive outcome from a negative event.
Leather community member Pat Croteau also spoke at the meeting, giving an educational talk about the leather community and its origins.
Croteau is a former president of the Ottawa Knights and the executive producer for Mr Leather Ottawa. He said he was not presenting on behalf of any organization.
Some people say things about members of the fetish community without realizing they’re saying something that is not only harmful to the person, but also affects and creates a negative image of the community, Croteau told the committee, noting there’s still a strong stigma against the fetish community.
“We’re very much dealing now with what some people call the ‘leather closet,’ he said. “It’s a lot like what was coming out a few decades ago.”
Stewart said he has just come out of his kinky closet in the past few years.
“I’m out to all of my coworkers, my parents. Everyone knows, so it’s a non-issue. And so to have something like this happen, it makes me want to take a step back,” he said.
There’s a need for everyone, especially people in a public capacity, to stop and think before they speak, Croteau said.
“Never assume when you see somebody that how they present themselves is not an important part of their identity,” he said. “It may not be, but you cannot make that assumption. And a few careless words can hurt that person and impact the community.”