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Protesters arrested during Black, Indigenous lives demonstration in Ottawa released

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2020-11-21 CBC/Radio-Canada
Dozens of people were at a protest camp in a central Ottawa intersection on Friday morning. Early Saturday morning, police dispersed the crowd, removing demonstrators and laying multiple charges. © Francis Ferland/CBC Dozens of people were at a protest camp in a central Ottawa intersection on Friday morning. Early Saturday morning, police dispersed the crowd, removing demonstrators and laying multiple charges.

All the protesters arrested when Ottawa police dispersed a downtown demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous lives early Saturday morning have been released from custody. 

The protest involved many advocacy groups, including the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, which formed after the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Black Ottawa man, during a violent arrest in 2016.

The demonstrators had been camped out at the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street, near the University of Ottawa, since Thursday afternoon.

Police dispersed the demonstration at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, removing protesters and charging 12 people with mischief.

Following the arrests, protesters gathered outside the Ottawa Police Service headquarters on Elgin Street to support those who had been arrested.

At about 2:30 p.m., the Justice for Abdirahman coalition tweeted that all protesters had been released and thanked everyone who had been at the demonstration for the past two days.

Police also confirmed that all 12 people charged had been released, as had one youth who'd received a warning.

Earlier on Saturday, Ottawa police said a section of Elgin Street was closed to traffic, as had services at the police headquarters' front desk. They have both reopened. 

In a news release, police said the demonstration had disrupted traffic and blocked an important route for emergency responders, causing "multiple safety issues." The force said it offered protesters alternative locations and gave multiple warnings before shutting down the demonstration.

'They didn't do anything wrong'

After the arrests, the Justice for Abdirahman coalition voiced feelings of betrayal on Twitter. 

Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, a member of the group, was one of the protesters who later gathered outside police headquarters.

"We want our people to be released. We want them to be given their freedom; this is their right," Ahmed-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."

a person wearing a hat: Victoria Marchand, an Anishinabe community member, left, and Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, stand outside the Ottawa police station on Saturday morning in support of the demonstrators arrested. © Sarah Kester/CBC News Victoria Marchand, an Anishinabe community member, left, and Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, of the Justice for Abdirahman coalition, stand outside the Ottawa police station on Saturday morning in support of the demonstrators arrested.

'An erosion of trust'

The Ottawa Police Services Board said its chair, Coun. Diane Deans, and members Coun. Rawlson King and Daljit Nirman had agreed to meet with members of the coalition "for the purposes of a constructive dialogue" at noon on Saturday.

But those members called off the meeting after the arrests, said Deans, who added that she approached the demonstration's organizers later in the day to see if talks could be struck up in the future.

"I think there has been an erosion of trust," Deans told CBC News. "I think that we have to continue to talk about the issues and, you know, listen to each other and move forward together."

In an earlier statement, Deans had said the police board cannot "interfere in the operational decisions" of police and was not involved in the decision to shut down the demonstration.

The board is also set to discuss a proposed $13.2-million increase to the Ottawa Police Service's budget on Monday — one of the main concerns of the demonstrators.

Protesters were also supposed to meet members of city council at 10 a.m., according to the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, another group taking part in the demonstration.

"There was a promise to have a discussion," Ahmed-Omer said. "The promise was broken by arresting our community members that were exercising their right to demonstrate."

Coun. Shawn Menard and Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden also 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 [councillors]. The situation was escalated instead."

a group of people walking on a sidewalk: A group of people gather outside the police station on Elgin Street in support of those arrested. © Sarah Kester/CBC News A group of people gather outside the police station on Elgin Street in support of those arrested.

Coun. Catherine McKenney was outside the main police station Saturday morning and said that 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.

The protest outside Ottawa police headquarters has also ended.

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