Mayor Watson and Chief Sloly: Enforcement of COVID-19 measures must respect human rights
Dear Mayor Watson and Chief Sloly,
Parents for Diversity is a non-profit organization of parents, educators and equity allies committed to achieving inclusive and non-discriminatory learning environments that allow children to fulfill their true potential in this world.
We are writing to you in your role as leaders of this city responsible for ensuring the safety and security of all its residents, including communities of African descent.
We appreciate the necessity of the measures all levels of government have put in place to help support residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, although we are all impacted, recent reports indicate that Black and other racialized people in Ottawa and across Canada are experiencing disproportionately high levels of sickness, mortality, displacement, unemployment, homelessness and an inability to self-isolate. As an organization supporting parents of racialized children, we are acutely concerned about the impact of these racial disparities on our families and communities.
The increase in hate crimes and racial profiling during this pandemic is also extremely troubling to us. While we recognize the need to protect the public’s health, we are concerned that measures to respond to COVID-19 are undermining the human rights of racialized people in Ottawa. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) have issued statements in which they expressed concern over the rise of racism and discrimination since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CHRC stated that racialized groups “have been the victims of racist taunts, threats and intimidation in public and online, and physical violence.” Reports of Anti-Asian sentiment online and racial incidents targeting Asian Canadians have increased over the last few months.
As well, we continue to see systemic racial profiling in law enforcement. This, despite the fact that, in September 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission adopted a Policy on eliminating racial profiling in law enforcement. As an organization, we expect public institutions, police and other law enforcement agencies, to respect human rights laws and policies when engaging with all residents, including Black and racialized people.
Since the City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency, we are aware of at least two incidents of alleged racial profiling and inappropriate use of authority.
On April 4, Mr. Obi Ifedi was singled out after complying with an order to leave an Ottawa park, subsequently pursued, assaulted, and then fined by a City of Ottawa bylaw officer. He was then handcuffed and interrogated by two Ottawa Police Service officers - in front of his young daughter and witnesses. The excessive response and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement against Mr. Ifedi, bear all the hallmarks of racial profiling.
The City’s request that residents help to enforce COVID-19 protocols by calling bylaw officers if they witness violations raises another concern: residents racially profiling their neighbours. On March 27, a school board trustee confronted a young man of African descent playing basketball by himself in a Barrhaven park, accused him of violating COVID-19 social distancing protocol, interrogated and threatened him, took his picture without his consent, and published the image on social media. This, despite the fact that the Ontario Government did not issue orders to close all outdoor recreational amenities across the province until March 30, 2020.
We are encouraged that Chief Sloly and his officers had begun engaging with racialized communities to improve relations long before the pandemic - and the racist meme recently circulated within the OPS shows how important this work remains. As well, we welcome the promotion of Isobel Granger to Inspector leading the OPS’ new Respect, Values and Inclusion (RVI) Directorate.
We call on you as Chief and Mayor to ensure that Ottawa Police Services and City by-law officers enforce COVID-19 special measures in line with the same values that the new Respect, Values and Inclusion directorate has been tasked with embedding throughout the police service.
Finally, we also look forward to seeing Ottawa’s new anti-racism secretariat put in place as soon as possible to support these efforts.
Parents for Diversity