We should have asked you your opinion, although we would have ignored it. That’s the contradictory message delivered by Inspector Joan McKenna, the co-chair of the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community.
Not good enough.
Given the weakness of the results, the latest police recommendations — stemming from a recent high-profile HIV nondisclosure case and released belatedly this week — are simply not credible.
Ottawa Police Services (OPS) conducted a debrief of how it handled the release of the name and photo of a gay man who allegedly had unprotected sex without disclosing his HIV status. A second version of that press release — with the term “sexual predator” thrown in for good measure — was distributed through the mailing list of the Police Liaison Committee to the queer community.
“I don’t think it would have changed the end result,” said McKenna. “We would still have put out his picture, but there would have been more consultation with the community. Because again, our role is public safety, so we felt there was a concern to the community at large, to be aware of, that this person was engaged in unsafe sex.”
Police cite their obligation to inform communities of imminent threats, which harkens to the mandatory release of information about serial predators on the prowl.
The accused in this case wasn’t on the prowl — he was already in custody. So the pressing concern was promoting STI testing, ostensibly. But judging from the way complainants have mounted — the man now faces six accusers — it certainly appears that the release of his name and photo were designed to ferret out more evidence and more complainants.
In other words, lazy police work. And perversely, the OPS’s concern for “community safety” may have put more of us at risk, since HIV disclosure has gotten a lot harder for people in Ottawa since May.
The report’s conclusion — we need more consultation — combined with McKenna’s realistic assessment that they would have released the poz guy’s photo anyway lays bare the problems of police-queer relations in Ottawa.
The battle over the safer inhalation program is a perfect example. You’ll remember that the program was championed widely by AIDS activists in the city. Amidst revelations that police were confiscating the safer pipes from users — and after Chief Vern White’s ignorant comments on the matter — queers tried to use the liaison committee to have their say. They were politely listened to, then ignored.
It’s been worse than that, with the liaison committee at times becoming defenders of the police rather than spokespeople for the queer community’s concern — like when they tried to tamp down our outrage after the beating of drag personality Dixie Landers.
I’ve worried in the past that the liaison had become, finally and completely, a volunteer arm of the police communications and public relations team.
On July 17, there was a glimmer of hope. The queers on the committee stated unequivocally a demand (one of the first I’ve seen them make in four years), namely that this report be released quickly, rather than waiting until September.
That demand was met by police — albeit in a semi-private meeting, and copies weren’t actually circulated. I look forward to what queers on that committee do next.
The bottom line is that HIV nondisclosure should be handled with the same sensitivity as domestic abuse cases. In domestic abuse cases, there are no press releases and only aggregate information is released publicly.
That’s what I’d say if I were consulted about a case like this. But then, my position, as McKenna points out, would simply be ignored. And that’s just not good enough.