Monday, November 23, 2020

Letter to Ottawa Police Services Board

I sent the following as an email to the Ottawa Police Services Board.

[Full mailing address]

I couldn't have written to you about this last year at this time.  Like most Canadians, I believed systemic racism was about systems (like police forces) which contained racist individuals.  In that context I would have wanted to focus on finding those "few bad apples", and not needed to discuss further.

This calendar year we were hit with a series of events: Wet'suwet'en blockades, conspiracy theories about COVID and China, and the most recent Black Lives Matters protests.

While I was born in Ontario in 1968, and have lived most of my life oblivious, I decided to learn what was happening.  This year I read many books and research papers, watched documentaries, took an online university course hosted by University of Alberta Faculty of Native Studies, and reached out to communities.

I now know that systemic racism is about systems built from racist world views.  

Canadian law is built upon British law, not North American (Turtle Island) law. This law embeds assumptions about how British and other European worldviews are superior. The Canadian governments (federal, provincial and municipal) were all built upon ideas derived from colonialism, and thus have racist ideas baked into them.

I am aware of how hard this is to read.  I know that who I was last year would have recoiled at and ridiculed the very suggestion that Canada itself is rooted on ideas which are white supremacist.  White supremacy in my mind was about skinheads wanting a whites-only nation -- a very fringe view within Canada. I would never have thought that a country built on the idea that European worldviews are presumed superior to any other is how white supremacy works.

This brings us to law enforcement.

Police don't simply make "risk assessments" and ensure public safety as your statement suggests. They make human assessments as to what would make their jobs easier.

It does not require any individual police officer to personally be aware of holding any racist views for the Ottawa Police to be systemically racist.  The laws which they are expected to enforce, and the policy priorities encoded within those laws, are themselves racist.

The recent downtown protests are an example of the problem.  Most people in Ottawa remain oblivious to the systemic racism around them: similar to asking a fish what water is.

As they don't see racism, they ignore people trying to bring attention to it.  Getting their attention requires that "normal life" be disrupted in order to get people to pay attention.  This means shutting down rail lines as First Nations did and holding major parts of the Canadian economy hostage. It requires people to block important intersections in Ottawa.  If people were protesting in a government designated area they would never be noticed, and nothing to fix systemic problems could ever happen.

The policy priority embedded in the law was to remove the economic and transportation inconvenience. The priority was not to ensure that critical policy issues are made visible to constituents or their "representatives", or to allow our democracy to become more participatory. Individuals were charged for doing their civic duty because it inconvenienced motorists.

I believe it is unfortunate that these events must disrupt Canadian society, and the citizens of Ottawa, but I see no other way. I know from my personal experience what it takes to wake up and recognise what is going on around me.

My hope is that City of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Police Services Board, will recognise the problem that people are trying to bring attention to. I hope that the urgency will be understood.  COVID is not the only pandemic we find ourselves dealing with, and I believe systemic racism embedded into our laws and other policies needs to be recognised as well.

Side note:  I am very happy that Ottawa isn't as racist as some municipalities.

I am closely watching what is happening in Caledonia.  Ken Hewitt, the mayor of Haldimand County, deliberately initiates violent situations for personal gain. There is some activity that can be excused from people who are unaware, and then there are people who are fully aware and are simply bad people.

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