It was a tense day of protest and memorial during Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) in Ottawa on Nov 20.
Emotions were already running high after a rift developed in the trans community over the appropriate role of police in the day’s activities. Earlier this month, Amanda Ryan and members of the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community announced a kick-off ceremony at Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin St.
In response, a second group planned a different starting location for the march at Minto Park a few blocks away, for those who felt uncomfortable with the police’s involvement.
A third group took organizers by surprise, staging a banner-unfurling nearby at the Queensway overpass on Elgin St. The banner read “Remember Stonewall,” a reference to a New York riot against police led by drag queens.
There, two were arrested for mischief. While they initially expected to spend the night in a detention centre, they were released later in the evening. The two youth, as a political statement, initially refused to identify themselves to the police.
The original march, organized by Ryan, started from the Ottawa police station on Elgin St. There, both the Gatineau and Ottawa police chiefs spoke.
Melanie Pasztor organized an alternative meeting place for people at Minto Park. Pasztor cited a number of reasons that trans people and their allies would feel uncomfortable with the police’s participation in the event. In particular, she pointed out that some of those remembered during TDOR were victims of state violence.
Ryan’s and Pasztor’s groups met — around 200 people — as scheduled and marched together to Parliament Hill, where Bill Siksay spoke about his private member’s bill that would extend the Canadian Human Rights Code to include gender identity.
As the rally ended on Parliament Hill, word spread of the banner protest and arrest, and that two youth remained in custody. About 50 people made their way back to the Ottawa police station and occupied the lobby to show prison solidarity.
Dan Irving, a professor at Carleton University who was among the crowd in the lobby, spoke with the two youth in custody.
“My reason for jail solidarity, aside from the fact that two people were arrested today, is also again to call attention back to the Trans Day of Remembrance and the fact that so many trans people have been subjected to violence on an everyday basis because of extremely precarious positions that they have,” says Irving. “It was really important for me to articulate this to the police, to remind them that it is highly ironic that on the Trans Day of Remembrance they would make these arrests.”
Irving said that his concern, like others at the sit-in, was that the detained youth were safe. He added that they would like to see the charges dropped against them and that they would be released.
“There are some areas that there will never be cooperation with the police, but it is my concern and a concern of a lot of people here that the people detained were safe,” says Irving. “Regardless of the identities of the people who were arrested today — there have been so many trans activists who have been working so hard to make sure that the politics of racialization, poverty, violence and sex-trade work are front and centre with this event.”
The youth were scheduled to appear in court on Sunday, Nov 21 but were released later in the evening. It is not known if or when they will appear in court.
It has been a difficult year for the police’s interaction with members of the gay and trans communities. In Ottawa, the police’s relationship with the community was strained in May, when police published the name and photo of a gay man charged with not disclosing his HIV status before having unprotected sex. One version of the media release included the term “sexual predator.”
TDOR is an annual event to commemorate trans people who have been victimized by violence, especially those who lost their lives. It was started to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, an African-American trans woman murdered in 1998.
Find photos and video of TDOR in Ottawa here.
This is a developing story.