The Justice for Abdirahman coalition says it feels betrayed after Ottawa police dispersed a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous lives downtown early Saturday morning, removing protesters and laying multiple charges against 12 people.
The protest involved several advocacy groups, including the coalition, which was formed after the death of Abdirahman Abdi during a violent arrest in 2016. Protesters were camped out at the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street, near the University of Ottawa.
The Ottawa Police Service said in a news release that it had been monitoring the demonstration and found that it disrupted regular traffic and blocked an important route for emergency responders, causing “multiple safety issues.”
The police service said it offered protesters alternatives locations to relocate the demonstration.
“After multiple warnings to the demonstrators, this morning at 3:30 am, Ottawa Police removed demonstrators from the area and laid multiple charges against 12 individuals,” the release said.
The Justice for Abdirahman coalition voiced feelings of betrayal on Twitter.
What a disgusting tactic to promise community meetings in the morning with city council & ottawa police services board and then ARREST US IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT. BETRAYAL!!!!! Show up at 474 elgin street and demand the release of our brothers & sisters <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BLM?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BLM</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/LandBack?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#LandBack</a> <a href=”https://t.co/GaxfvsoCul”>https://t.co/GaxfvsoCul</a>
‘They didn’t do anything wrong’
Protesters are now gathering outside the police station on Elgin Street in support of those arrested.
Ottawa police said the southbound lane of Elgin, from Catherine to McLeod streets, has been closed to traffic.
Officers have also closed the police station’s front desk while the demonstration outside continues.
Dahabo Omer, with the coalition, stood outside the police station on Saturday morning.
“We want our people to be released. We want them to be given their freedom; this is their right,” Omer said. “They didn’t do anything wrong. They were peaceful.
“They shouldn’t have been arrested. They were given 10 minutes to pack up.”
Ottawa Police Services Board says talks called off
The Ottawa Police Services Board said its chair, Diane Deans, and members Coun. Rawlson King and Daljit Nirman agreed to meet with members of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition “for the purposes of a constructive dialogue today at noon” on Saturday.
“Regrettably, following the apprehension of demonstrators early this morning by the Ottawa Police Service, the community members have since declined to meet,” Deans said in a statement. “We remain at city hall willing and open to talk.
“While we understand the concern with the decision to remove the demonstrators, the board cannot interfere in the operational decisions of the service and was therefore not involved in this action,” the statement continues. “The police make operational decisions based on risk assessments and ensuring the safety of the public.”
Protesters were also supposed to meet members of city council at 10 a.m., according one of the advocacy groups that was part of the encampment near the University of Ottawa.
“There was a promise to meet us,” Omer said. “There was a promise to have a discussion. The promise was broken by arresting our community members that were exercising their right to demonstrate.”
Ottawa Coun. Shawn Menard and New Democrat MPP Joel Harden, who represents Ottawa Centre, voiced their dissatisfaction with the actions of police on social media.
“I’m hearing that there was no warning,” Menard wrote on Twitter. “Resolution was going to happen in the morning with a meeting with [c]ouncillors. The situation was escalated instead.”
I’m hearing that there was no warning. Resolution was going to happen in the morning with a meeting with Councillors. The situation was escalated instead. <a href=”https://t.co/vgacJRpkZk”>https://t.co/vgacJRpkZk</a>
Coun. Catherine McKenney was outside police station on Saturday morning and said as a city councillor, they felt compelled to show solidarity with protesters.
“Protesters felt betrayed. I think that, you know, it was unexpected,” McKenney said.
Still, McKenney said, arrests are a police matter and city council doesn’t direct operations.
According to police, the Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street intersection is now open and police continue to monitor the area.