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From the Lower End of Ottawa's Carrot Patch

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Issue: 21 Section: Ottawa Geography: Ontario ottawa Topics: dominion, poverty

August 25, 2004

From the Lower End of Ottawa's Carrot Patch

by Jane Scharf

The homeless action strike is seeking an end to the criminalization of poverty and dissent.
The Dominion continues to take the Ottawa streets by storm. Distribution is stable at 5000. There are approximately 15 carriers selling regularly.

I spoke with community police liaison officer Ruth Armstrong about Don's ticket and the other two tickets. Ruth advised that two of the tickets were given because the carriers were to close to a bus stop; it was not because the distribution of the paper was illegal. She did not yet have information about the third ticket but she thinks it might have been an officer that was not familiar with the department's supportive decision on the distribution of the paper.

There are still a few officers who, while not ticketing carriers, still harass them. Prosanto Smith was hassled three times last week. Once an officer advised that he was going to ticket him for spitting on the sidewalk and the other two times he was told he was under investigation for some unspecified crime.

It is my hope that all police officers get the message that distribution of the paper is legal, and that those renegade officers who continue to harass carriers face consequences for their unjustified actions.

General Street Policing Practices

While the de facto ban on panhandling is oppressive and unjust, there is also an issue with the way street persons are treated by police. I have witnessed four instances where a proper investigation would have ruled out an arrest.

Ottawa police have a practice of arresting street people without taking witness statements from those present at the time an alleged crime took place. They claim that it is the responsibility of the accused to get the witness statements and these witnesses can testify in court.

A person who is being arrested cannot possibly coordinate such an operation while being removed from the scene. S/he does not always know who the witnesses are or how to locate them. Even if the arrestee does locate the witnesses s/he cannot compel them to cooperate in the way a police officer can.

I discovered this practice when I was arrested this past week while trying to keep an innocent homeless woman from being seized by police. The police arrested her based on accusations from another woman, who claimed that she had been assaulted. There were several witnesses prepared to advise police that the woman being detained had not assaulted the other woman.

Police said that they were going to take statements, but did not. One officer had to leave in an ambulance with the accused-the trauma had caused her to have a panic attack. The other officers began leaving without taking statements. I stood behind the last vehicle in protest, and was arrested for obstructing a police officer. Due to the bail conditions imposed I could not return to the protest site.

I have had some discussions with the police administration about this irresponsible practice; it was defended. I am currently preparing a formal complaint about this unacceptable policy. This may require political or court intervention.

Homeless Action Strike

As the Homeless Action Strike successfully approaches its 400th day at City Hall near the Human Rights Monument, the 15 homeless strikers are safe from criminalization of their protest, but still feel vulnerable.

"The City is trying to cooperate with us now which is giving advancement and legitimacy to our cause," said Homeless Strike spokesperson Ryan McGrath. "Although we are very pleased by the support and success we have had so far we still need to see more results because we are afraid of a police raid before our issues are resolved."

I spent the first 17 days helping to set up the strike location, which has since been dubbed "Camp Where-Else". The homeless campers took more and more responsibility as time went on and a good degree of solidarity developed. On July 18-the day after the police arrested me and imposed bail conditions barring me from the camp-15 policemen led by Sergeant Terrie Walsh arrived at the camp, and attempted to shut it down. The strikers refused to cooperate with the attempted eviction. Police subsequently said it would be alright for the strikers to protest-but without tents. The protesters were advised that they had until the next morning to remove their tents or the tents would be confiscated and the protest would be shut down.

Press was notified and all tents moved onto the Human Rights Monument property, which is attached to the southwest corner of City Hall property, to avoid being shut down. Strike organizer Andre Brisebois called on George Wilks, one of the original founders of the Human Rights Monument, for help.

George intervened on behalf of the committee in defence of the homeless strikers and strongly advised the city and police not to remove the strikers from their protest.

The next day, members of the press arrived en masse and stayed all day waiting for the police raid, which never occurred. Instead, representatives of the police advised the strikers that they could stay as long as they followed basic rules (which of course they were already following). The police also advised the press that the protesters were peaceful.

Through the strength of the 15 homeless persons on site and with the clear support of the Monument Committee, Homeless Action Strike demands the following:

* Resolution by city council to refrain from ordering the police to brutalize protestors; stop the punishment and criminalization of dissent;

* Resolution by city council to cease ordering the police and the state to arrest and prosecute panhandlers if they are not aggressive;

* Resolution to find immediate and humane solutions to homelessness issues;

* Public apology to Jane Scharf and the other Homeless Action Strike protesters, to Heidi Rimke, and to all the members of the Seven Year Squat for the criminalization of our dissenting voices in direct violation of our constitutional right to freely express our political opinions on social problems without prosecution.

Sean McKenny, President of the Ottawa District Labour Council, is assisting in negotiations with the mayor's office through John Crupi, the mayor's press secretary. So far no offers of resolution have been made to the strikers.

Andre Brisebois is coordinating a petition in support of the homeless and their plight. Copies will be available online shortly at:

Email address for the Homeless Action Strike is:

Strikers still need help with food, clothing, blankets, photocopies for the petition, and phone numbers for a phone tree that will be called on for witnesses to attend the site if police try to close the strike down.

To put your phone number on the phone tree contact John Dunn at .

Jane Scharf

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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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