Saturday, June 25, 2005

A quiet day in Ottawa...

My partner and I, members of the Ottawa Witness Group, were on duty this a.m. at Ottawa police headquarters, where a squeegee protest was to take place by a number of Ottawa's homeless. The Safe Streets Act, a law that criminalizes "aggressive panhandling" (yes, that means squeegeeing), passed in the bad old Mike Harris days, is still in force, and is used by a number of Ottawa police officers to hassle homeless people. They issue tickets to them, a modern take on the blood-from-stones notion, they arrest them on occasion, they move them along and generally make their lives more miserable than they already are.

So a small crowd showed up, squeegees and leaflets in hand, and a demonstration permit too, which caused no end of grief. By getting the permit, the group had effectively agreed to specific restrictions that likely went beyond the law--bad idea. A few decided to head right into the police station walkway, and were told by officers that this was "private property," a comment that had some of us scratching our heads. Nevertheless, the protesters backed away, and many went off downtown to squeegee and deliver their message. We followed them, but there were no police and no incidents.

Walking back in this steambath Ottawa weather, we came upon a familiar figure: Dr. Henry Morgentaler, here for a Humanist conference, taking a street break. The Ottawa Citizen had predicted crowds of protesters, but there was nary a one--this, after all, is a get-out-of-town day, if ever there was one. We go back a few years, so we chatted a little, and my partner was more than pleased to meet him and shake his hand. I wished "Dr. Dr." well, and on the way back we agreed that this sharp and sprightly octogenarian gives us ageing boomers hope.

We passed the police station on the way back to the car, and caught a few stragglers, who thanked us for being out. One of the leaders had just put in an official complaint about the police for their handling of the demo, thus helping to legitimize a cop-heavy procedure with no credibility--but it wasn't our role to get into active discussion with protesters. More on the role and work of the Witness Group in later posts.

Tomorrow, who knows? A quiet day would be nice...

No comments: