11 min

Thirty minutes with Clive Doucet

Discussing queer issues over a cup of coffee

Xtra was asked by a number of people to host a mayoral debate to address queer concerns, but with the candidates’ hectic campaign schedules it became obvious that a debate would not be possible. Not willing to give up on the opportunity to hear what the candidates had to say, Xtra came up with the idea of a croissant-and-coffee Q and A session.

The premise was that members of the queer community would send in questions tackling queer issues and, over the time it takes to have a coffee and croissant, Xtra would pose the questions to each of the top four mayoral candidates: Jim Watson, Larry O’Brien, Andrew Haydon and Clive Doucet.

Things didn’t go according to plan.

Watson responded immediately and scheduled a meeting for the next day. However, his enthusiasm fizzled out quickly and he cancelled two hours before the meeting, with a promise to reschedule — but he never did. On Oct 13, Xtra emailed the questions to Watson and is still waiting for the answers.

Larry O’Brien did not respond to any of the emails sent by Xtra.

Andrew Haydon called and left a message saying he was too busy to meet but that he could answer the questions by phone. That did not work because of scheduling conflicts, so he, too, was emailed the questions. He never responded.

Clive Doucet was the only candidate who agreed to meet with Xtra. A time was arranged, and on a windy Saturday morning, Xtra sat down with Doucet at Francesco’s coffee shop in the Glebe. Doucet was obviously in a rush (he had a brunch meeting the same morning), but he was happy to talk.

The questions came from various queer organizations in Ottawa. They were thoughtful and reflected issues that are important to the queer community. Below is the transcription of the interview.

Xtra: Why do you want to run for mayor?

Clive Doucet: My whole life has been cities: I have been an urban anthropologist since I left school; my very first public engagement was fighting the expressway; and I’ve written and lectured and talked about the need for more sustainable cities since I was 19 years old. To be honest, I was hoping this would be my last term [as councillor] and we would have had north-south-east-west light rail built. I could have left with a sense of completion and been able to get on with another part of my life. That was the great dream.

I have loved being councillor; it has been a great 12, 13 years. I am very proud of our accomplishments. Anyway, the electorate decided differently; they elected Mr O’Brien. The last four years have been really difficult. I haven’t liked anything about the administration of Mr O’Brien — I have fought him on cancellation of the train, I have fought him on the OC transport strike, I have fought him on Lansdowne, I continue to fight him on Lansdowne.

So I looked at my first plan, which was to leave, and I thought, Well, who can I hope will take over the sustainable city agenda? And I looked at the candidates coming forward and it was very clear there was no one. Mr Watson and Mr O’Brien are very different in terms of personality and character and so forth, but if you look at their policies, they are virtually the same. They both want to build a tunnel, which I think is a colossal waste of money. They both want to sell Lansdowne Park — Mr Watson is even supporting the loss of Sylvia Holden Park. They both take money from developers, and I think that one of the curses of this city is politicians being supported by developers — you have basically a developer-driven city.

In a nutshell, that’s the reason I am running, and I guess I also saw that this was a chance that would never come back again. The progressive movement came to me and said, “Look, Clyde, we have a chance here if you lead it.” And that’s a pretty tough situation to be in. Do I abandon everything I have fought for my whole life or do I take one more run? The answer came back very clearly: I can’t leave.

Xtra: The Bank Street Business Association appears to resist promoting part of Bank St as a gay business and “village.” How would you see Ottawa being improved as a city that promotes gay tourism and provides the required business and economic platform and support?

CD: I think Ottawa’s great reason for being is that it is a city of meeting places, and my vision of a city is a city of meeting places. It is a place where the two original cultures meet, French and English. It is a place the aboriginal people have always had as a meeting place on Victoria Island. It is a place our great rivers meet — the Ottawa, the Gatineau and the Rideau. My vision of the city is that we have to do everything we can to promote this notion of this being a city of meeting places. If I were mayor, I would do all I could to foster this notion of our city where people come together to talk. I think a queer village is one of the many meeting places of Ottawa, and I don’t understand why we don’t have one, and I would do what I can to advance that notion. If the queer community wants and thinks a village is a great idea, then, just like people who think Lansdowne Park is a great idea, we should damn well do it, and it should be part of that greater vision of this city as being a place that brings people together.

Xtra: There has been a recent issue with HIV-nondisclosure cases and a creep toward a policy of criminalizing people living with HIV. Would you, as mayor, endorse the adoption of prosecutorial guidelines and other guidelines that could be used by the Ottawa Police and law enforcers to better understand their role in combating the spread of HIV?

CD: I think the first line in any problem is to educate and the last line is prosecution. But I think if someone is HIV positive, they have a responsibility not to spread that disease; that’s all there is to it.

Xtra: What happened this year was the police issued a press release with someone’s name —

CD (interrupting): That’s not a good idea. That’s like issuing the name of somebody who has just got out of jail. It’s not going to help that person rehabilitate.

Xtra: What are your views on reintroducing progressive community policing to Ottawa?

CD: We need more community policing and less swat teams, more community policing and less training for G8 events. My idea of great policing is when Mr Bush came to Ottawa, I knew there was a chance of what happened in Toronto [at the G20 summit], so what I did was I went down to Festival Plaza and I got the city to put out a podium and a sound system to give people a place to talk. I was one of the first speakers, and I welcomed all the protesters to Ottawa and I said, “By the way, I am not a supporter of Mr Bush. I don’t like his policies and I don’t support them, but don’t take it out on our city. Treat our city like it was your mom’s living room, so that the press messages that go around the world are the messages of the protest — the substance of it and not breaking a window.” We had thousands of protesters; they even cleaned up Festival Plaza before they left. I was the councillor who started the serving of water on the streets in hot weather so the protesters had access to water, and we really never had much of a problem in Ottawa at all.

That’s the policing approach I would take. I think Toronto was a colossal failure of community policing. If I had been the mayor of Toronto, I would not have had all the swat teams on the street; they would have been somewhere else. I would have had a “Welcome to our city” kind of approach, because one of the huge problems is that it is always a small group of people who come bent on violence. What you have to do is to make sure that the 99 percent of people are welcomed and treated the right way, so you can actually separate them out, so you get an idea of who is violent and who’s not. When you have this oppressive police presence, it puts everyone in the same box and you end up with violence; violence begets violence. I think we should have much more emphasis on treating citizens, when they are protesting, as citizens first and not as potential criminals. I think that the government we have now, at the federal level, seems to regard everyone as a potential criminal. I think that’s wrong. It’s the policing of oppression, not the policing of engagement.

Xtra: The Police Services Board: does the mayor appoint the board —

CD (interrupting): There are three councillors and the mayor sits on it. The council approves it but the mayor has a lot to say about it.

Xtra: So, if you were mayor and people approached the Police Services Board about the criminalization of HIV, prosecutorial guidelines and other guidelines which could be used by the Ottawa Police and law enforcers —

CD (interrupting): We have got to find a way to get the chief medical officer of health and the police chief talking better because we have a real gap between the MOH and the chief of police. As a mayor, I don’t want to get between my senior guy on the health side and my senior guy on the policing side. I want them to come up with a common position and then I will support them.

Xtra: As mayor, would you implement and support harm-reduction programs and activities based on research evidence? To be more precise: would you consider reversing city council’s [board of health] decision to prohibit Ottawa Public Health from distributing Safer Inhalation Program health equipment such as crack pipes? Should a new board of health present research evidence endorsing the program as a necessary tool within the mandate of public health to fight blood-borne infections and malignancies, reducing harm to individuals and the community in general?

CD: Everything I did would be based on protecting the health of the citizens, so I would have to get some advice from my medical officer of health, and once I got that I would sit down with the police chief and figure out what a common position was. I would not allow the police chief and the medical officer to have two different opinions in front of the public.

Xtra: If research evidence supports safer injection facilities as a way to reduce harm to individuals using injecting equipment, and also to reduce harm to the general public, would you endorse such a facility in Ottawa?

CD: With the support of the chief of police and the medical officer of health. I am not going to get strung out on a plank between those guys; it’s not a good thing to do.

Xtra: The trans community is one of the most marginalized groups in the GLBT community. There is a distinct lack of understanding of their needs from the general public. What policies would the City of Ottawa consider putting forward to ensure its employees receive the necessary sensitivity training to competently serve this group?

CD: I don’t think you should actually single out a group; I think it’s quite destructive. I think people are people and you have to remember that. At the end of the day we are all cut from the same rock and we all go back to the same rock. The whole thrust of my mayoralty will be about creating a city where people believe in the city as a terrific place and believe in each other. I think this categorizing of human beings and this gotcha journalism is all part of a very destructive force that I feel every day as a councillor and in an election campaign. I felt it myself: when I was first elected I was sitting in the barber chair, and one of the customers started to rail on about the French taking over the city — he knew exactly who I was. In a way, it’s a kind of human disease that has been around forever, and those of us who believe that civilized society is about all of society moving forward in their own ways, together.

Xtra: But not everyone looks on life the same way you do, so do you think that there could be sensitivity training done within the City of Ottawa?

CD: Yeah, sure. If we have a special problem, sure, absolutely.

Xtra: GLBT seniors are reporting cases of harassment and discrimination from senior-care facilities. Would you, as mayor, be willing to support the development of a GLBT seniors’ care facility in addition to endorsing sensitivity training to senior-care workers?

CD: Sure.

Xtra: Queer youth have higher rates of homelessness than non-queer youth. Considering this, what ideas would you put forward to address this issue?

CD: Well, I think you have to work with Youth Services Board and also families. A lot of those kids are rejected by their parents for odd reasons, so you have to work with the families to say, “What’s going on here?” I think that Youth Services Board is doing a great job. They have a great ED and we will see what we can do.”

Xtra: A judge recognized that three prostitution laws undermined sex workers’ rights to security. In light of the recent ruling, how would you, as mayor, address the situation if the appeal is successful and the status quo is maintained?

CD: Let’s hope it’s not successful. What I would do would be an example for how you should behave and how you should speak on these issues. I don’t have any patience with discrimination, and I think what you are doing here is discriminating against people who are working in the oldest trade on the planet. The criminalizing of prostitution is one of the biggest hypocrisies on the planet. What we should do is do what we can to make it a safe profession.

Xtra: The City of Ottawa has been a long-time supporter of the queer community and has funded PTS [Pink Triangle Services] since 2003. This centre has been providing support, educational and advocacy services since 1984. Recently, they have been putting together a response to the lack of free community-based counselling services for queer people. The work being done at PTS is pivotal to the health and wellness of the queer community and needs the City of Ottawa’s support. As Ottawa’s mayor, how would you ensure the funding to support this work continues to be available through the city?

CD: If the group convinced me it was necessary I would, but I would have to be convinced.

Xtra: Do you support a plan to set aside any of the more than $40 million in savings to the city, as a result of provincial uploading of income support programs, and use these funds toward social support services in Ottawa — specifically, the allocation of $15 million to support the building of up to 1,000 new units of affordable housing and supportive housing units annually over the next 10 years?

CD: Yes, but I think we need to do a lot more than that, a lot more — that’s just the drop in the bucket. We have to start investing more in people services, and we have to find new ways of doing it, and we have to find new ways of building affordable housing. This won’t do it. We have to start land banking — we are giving away all of our land. We’re selling it off for very short-term profits, and one of the huge reasons we have a lack of gathering places, a lack of affordable housing, a lack of playing fields, is that the city will not acquire land. We create huge value every time we put a sewer or a road into a place; we create immense value, but we don’t retain enough land for affordable housing, for example. Once you have the land you can get the housing because you can get the money from the bank and you can get the clients. Why do you think developers want the land? All they really care about is land. Once they have Lansdowne Park, for example, they don’t need anything else. They’ve got 40 acres of prime downtown land and everything else follows.

We, the public sector, have to do what Saskatoon has done. They have a program called SHIP [Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership] in which they [the city], …[unclear]… make sure they acquire about 10 to 15 percent of land as the city expands, and that land is used for things like affordable housing. Much of our problem in Ottawa comes from two places: lack of affordable housing and lack of intelligent recreational space, community centres and so forth. We solve those two problems and we solve a lot of our social problems that come from exclusion — and exclusion comes from poverty and a lack of opportunity.