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From the Lower End of Ottawa's Carrot Patch

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Section: Ottawa Geography: Ontario ottawa Topics: dominion, poverty

July 21, 2004

From the Lower End of Ottawa's Carrot Patch

by Jane Scharf

The Ottawa edition of the Dominion, which is distributed by the poor and homeless, has been very well received by police, city officials, and the Sparks Street and Byward Market authorities, as well as by the media and the general public. We have had a particularly generous level of support from the Ottawa District Labour Council, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and Ottawa-Outaouais Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which has taken panhandlers on as a bargaining unit.

CTV aired a very positive piece on the Dominion and our Panhandlers Union this week. Previously the New RO ran a story and the Ottawa Xpress ran two articles. I believe that it is both the quality of the paper and its practical value in offering some viable alternative to panhandling that makes it so popular.

Generally, Police have been very positive and supportive about the Dominion from the beginning. There have been two instances when police told people selling the Dominion to move on--once on Bank St. and once on Elgin St. On these occasions the carriers did not speak up--they were frightened and did as they were asked. Since then I have visited the police station and the staff sergeant on duty advised that as long as we are soliciting donations for the paper this activity is legal. He asked us for a copy of the Dominion for each area staff sergeant in the downtown core and said he would provide each of them with a copy of the paper and my number. If any of them had a problem with distributing the paper, they were to call me. Over two weeks have passed, and I have not received any calls; nor have there been further incidents with police since.

Although the Dominion offers a little economic opportunity for some very poor folks it is not "the solution" to poverty and homelessness. Nor is it the case that all poor and homeless persons can or want to distribute the paper.

The greater issue of abuse of panhandlers and homeless persons still exists. For example, four young homeless men were panhandling on Rideau St. when two Ottawa police officers came by. The four men advised me that they were treated aggressively and one young man was hurt for not producing identification (which he did not have) rapidly enough. All four were ticketed for aggressive panhandling. All four men advise that they were passively sitting against a wall with a sign. As I left Rideau Street that afternoon I saw these men panhandling and indeed all they were doing was quietly sitting against the wall with a sign. I have seen individuals getting tickets for aggressive panhandling even though they were behaving very gently and nonintrusively.

In the above case the officers were very aggressive in their manner and threatened that the young men would be put in jail if they continued to panhandle in Ottawa. They also advised them that it was their job as police to make sure that Ottawa did not have any homeless people in the city this summer.

There are only a few very mean-spirited police officers in this city and I hear stories about these same officers over and over. Based on the stories of abuse from last summer, and more recently, I would estimate that there are probably five officers who need to be disciplined for their conduct towards homeless panhandlers. I am prepared to publish the names of officers who refuse to clean up their act when it comes to abuse of carriers and or panhandlers.

The Homeless Action Strike--now on day 361--still continues against the Safe Streets Act and Brian's Law, which criminalize homelessness. The mayor has refused to meet me (as requested in my letter--see Dominion #18, May 2004) to resolve the issue of police violence to against our strike under the Terry Fox Bridge, which was directed at the provincial government. The mayor's press secretary, John Crupi, has advised me informally that it was not the mayor who ordered the eviction of the seven year squat and the Homeless Action Strike and the arrest of Heidi Remki--it was Chief Bevan of the Ottawa Police. However, my experience and information do not support this accusation.

There will be a Homeless Hunger Strike at City Hall in Ottawa by a man named Christ Keats, who has been homeless for several years. He is protesting for the right to exist. For a full statement of what Chris is demanding write me at dn701@ncf.ca for a copy of the demands being made by Chris and his supporters.

It is my hope that the Dominion will continue to gain support and grow into a viable community enterprise that can offer many stable and meaningful jobs to the poorest members of our community. To date, four persons have stated that the Dominion has helped them off the streets: Richard Bellmore, Ryan Campbell, and Tammy and Tommy Gillet.

Jane Scharf is the Ottawa coordinator of the Dominion.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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