A family celebrating the close of Ramadan was joined by some Ottawa police officers Tuesday night, determined to party in their own way. By the time the cops finished their cavorting, a two-month-old infant, a one-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl had been pepper-sprayed, a grandmother had her leg broken in three places, and the four of them had been taken to hospital. Meanwhile, a nineteen-year old girl and her 23-year old sister were carted off to spend the night in jail.
A large family gathering of the Ozier family had been taking place at their Herongate home. At about 11:30 p.m., a loud altercation took place within the house, which the family says was a "tense debate" between a brother and sister, Iman Ozier and her brother Ali. Two cops on patrol got interested, and demanded entry into the house. When Malak Ozier, 19 (who had gone outside to get a break from the argument) refused to let them enter, she says she was grabbed, shoved to the ground, handcuffed, and put in their police cruiser.
That got the family's attention, and about twenty to twenty-five of them came outside to see what was going on. The cops called for back-up, 20 more cops showed up, and they laid on with a will, dousing the family with pepper-spray, smashing them with batons, and generally showing them who was boss.
Mercifully, the two-month-old infant was not charged with assault upon a police officer, the standard dodge (as we saw recently in Toronto) when cops run amok and need to cover their tracks. Four other family members were, however, and one was charged with an additional offence that should raise an eyebrow or two: "disarming a police officer."
The police claim that the family argument had become physical--the two officers on the scene claim that they'd looked through a window and seen punches thrown. But Malak Ozier asks: "How come the only bruises anyone has on their faces are from mace or batons and not from punches?" One of the other people charged, her sister Iman, did, however, attribute the marks on her face to being shoved into a brick wall. She spent the night in jail, shivering with cold and, she says, being taunted by police when she requested a blanket ("What do you think this is, the Holiday Inn?").
Another one of those charged, Ali, was chased into the house by police: he was taken to Montfort hospital with bruises on his feet, legs and face. The grandmother, who has since expressed the desire to return to Lebanon, fell down some stairs after being blinded with pepper-spray.
Police Superintendent Charles Bordeleau, whose job it is to put a happy face on such incidents, claimed that the family had set upon the police, but added that Police Services is "conducting a review" of the incident. The family, meanwhile, is seeking legal advice, and may go through the empty exercise of making a civilian complaint against police, which will be duly investigated by the police themselves.
Ottawa Police are basking in an unearned victory at the moment, with the arrest of a suspect in the Ardeth Wood murder (it was actually an alert North Bay detective who cracked the case), and the reflected glow may prevent an outbreak of public indignation. But such incidents are becoming disturbingly common in the nation's capital, and they highlight the crying need for an independent complaints system. In the meantime, the circumstances of this encounter are suspicious, to say the least. A clash of civilizations, perhaps?
UPDATE: (October 22) First, two corrections that cause me no little embarrassment: the month of Ramadan continues. The festival of Eid Al-Fitr is still some way off (November 4). The Ozier family (not "Ozeir" as misspelled in a couple of media reports) were in fact having a family reunion, and were breaking their daily fast with a celebratory meal. On top of that, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan is abbreviated to "Eid," not "Eids." It's bad enough getting this sort of thing wrong in the text of an article, but even worse in the header. My apologies to all and sundry.
The family has now filed a formal complaint, and is reported to be hiring a lawyer. I suspect they will do far better with the latter than with the former. I hope the media stay on this story, and clear up some initial confusion: for example,was the infant who was pepper-sprayed by the police two months old (Ottawa Sun) or four months old (Ottawa Citizen)?