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Why an Ottawa trans man’s arrest could lead to police training

‘It’s never pretty, any degree of force used by police,’ says Inspector John McGetrick

Credit: digicomphoto/iStock/Thinkstock

An incident involving a local trans man’s arrest at the Canadian Tire Centre could lead to changes in police training.

On March 20, a trans man reached out to the Ottawa Police Service GLBT liaison committee after being arrested at an Ottawa Senators hockey game the previous night. Gary Leger, community co-chair of the liaison committee, spoke to him and, without naming him, detailed the man’s concerns at the committee’s April 20 meeting.

“The person who brought forward the incident identifies with the trans community as female to male trans,” Leger said. “Part of the incident that’s being brought forward is the individual wanted to know what the steps were for filing an excessive force complaint against police.”

According to Leger, the trans man was at the March 19 Senators game and was waiting for his friend, who was outside having a cigarette. He was holding an alcoholic beverage when he was approached by a security guard, who asked to see ID, Leger said. The man said he wouldn’t show ID unless security could explain why that was necessary. Instead of providing a reason, security summoned police, Leger said.

“Police arrived, they tried to escort him out of the building and he asked again why he was being escorted out of the building. Police said because you’re trespassing,” he said. “The two officers picked him up and brought him out through the door and then held him down once they were outside of the front of the building.”

The man was wearing bindings to make his chest flat, which caused him pain when the police handcuffed him, Leger said. He told the officers he was trans and one officer asked what that meant. After hearing an explanation, the officer didn’t respond, Leger said.

“The individual feels there was excessive force used during the arrest, especially [since] he stated he was trans,” he said.

A third police officer was summoned and gave the man a $65 ticket for trespassing, Leger said.

“I’m trying to understand how you can be trespassing when you have a ticket,” he said. “He had his ticket, he didn’t bring any alcohol outside, so that wasn’t the issue.”

Brian Morris, a spokesperson for Canadian Tire Centre, told Daily Xtra that the security reports on the incident indicated the man appeared impaired.

“Given that our venue serves alcohol, we are subject [to] the Ontario Liquor Licence Act,” Morris said in an email. “Under the act, our staff are obligated to ask for identification for any patron who appears to be impaired. As per the act above, patrons are not allowed to be in the venue while impaired.”

During the committee meeting, Inspector John McGetrick, police co-chair of the liaison committee, emphasized that people have to follow the rules of the establishment while on private property.

“Whether it’s fair, right or whatever, if you’re told to leave, you do have to leave,” McGetrick said.

You can pursue other options later, from filing a complaint to considering a civil suit, but in the moment, when you’re asked to leave private property, leaving is your only option, he said.

Additionally, there is a difference between police officers being on patrol versus doing paid duty at a hockey arena, McGetrick said.

“I think people have to remember when police are working at the Canadian Tire Centre, we’re there as an agent for the Canadian Tire Centre,” he said. “If they identify someone who has broken one of their rules, then it’s our job to remove the person.”

Since he wasn’t there, he can’t comment on the amount of force used, McGetrick said.

“It’s never pretty, any degree of force used by the police,” he said. “We’re trained to use the least [amount of force], but if someone resists in the slightest it takes effort to remove someone. I’m not taking any sides — I wasn’t there — but it’s never pretty.”

For Leger, what was particularly troubling about the incident was what appeared to be a lack of knowledge of trans issues during the arrest. If there are police officers who don’t know what being trans is and how that could affect an arrest, there could be a gap in police training and education, he said.

Diversity training has to be ongoing — and if there are gaps, it’s important to address them so that all officers have the information they need, McGetrick said.

“Every officer has to go through use of force re-qualification ever year and trans-identified searches are discussed every year,” he said. “We could add that component [about bindings].”

So far, the man hasn’t filed a formal complaint, Leger said.