Ottawa police are officially refusing to comment on a claim that one of its officers destroyed private property.
The destruction of property happened last Thursday when a police constable, identified only by the last name Clark, demanded a camera be handed over by a protestor downtown. Wanting to avoid arrest, the man complied. When the constable returned the camera a short time later, all photos and video had been deleted.
I sent along specific details of these events to the Ottawa Police looking for comment. They would not deny any of it.
“We cannot comment of specifics to an open investigation. Nor do we confirm or deny named persons on an investigation,” Const. Marc Soucy wrote to me in an email.
Well, that’s big of the police force. They took someone’s personal property, deleted files on it and never charged or arrested the person. But they call it an “ongoing investigation” and therefore they cannot comment.
What is the ongoing investigation?
It’s into the actions of two retired men, Cyril Winter and Donald Bruneau, who protest outside the Morgentaler abortion clinic on Bank Street, just steps from Parliament Hill. These two men walk back and forth on the sidewalk with signs that quite clearly show they are opposed to abortion and the public funds that pour into the privately owned Morgentaler clinic to pay for the abortions. Nothing illegal in their views or their signs.
Most of the time these men walk on the sidewalk across the street from the clinic, but at times Mr. Winter will cross over to the same side as the clinic. Nothing illegal in where they protest either, since Ottawa does not have a bubble zone law.
But Ottawa police and people at the clinic seem to have a problem with the signs and the location of this protest. So for the past few weeks they have been harassing the two men. A few weeks ago, Winter was threatened with arrest over his signs.
Then last Thursday, police stopped Winter again, questioning him for close to an hour. During much of this time, his friend Mr. Bruneau was recording the actions of police on a camera.
Nothing illegal in this; nothing illegal on their sings and nothing illegal in the location of their protest, but it seems some Ottawa police think they have authority even when the law does not grant them that authority.
Bruneau told me over the phone that when the officer named Clark saw him recording the street side interrogation of Winter, the officer approached.
“He came up to me, and he said ‘I want your camera.’ I asked what law there was requiring me to hand it over. He said again in a very gruff tone, ‘I want your camera.’ I didn’t want to be arrested and didn’t know my rights, so I complied,” Bruneau said.
Bruneau says that’s when the officer walked across Bank Street and into the front entrance of the building that houses the abortion clinic.
“My friend Cy saw him manipulating my camera and that’s when he deleted my files,” Bruneau said. “Before he gave me my camera back, he gave me a lecture and told me it wasn’t right to film him.”
Perhaps the cop is just ashamed at being reduced to harassing a man exercising his right to protest; because unless there is a law that I am not aware of, there was nothing in Bruneau’s actions that violated the law. Meanwhile, the cops continue to pester Winter over his decision to walk on a public sidewalk wearing a sign.
“They interrogated me for a total of about 7 hours over 3 days, just harassing me,” Winter said of the police action last week.
So far he has not been arrested or charged, but the police are trying to convince him that he is in violation of the city bylaw regulating where groups of people can and cannot protest.
“They tried to convince me that I was a collection of people,” Winter said.
They didn’t arrest him at all last week or again today when they stopped by for a chat.
“They’ll come after me tomorrow again.”
As for Bruneau, he said he isn’t planning on complaining to the police standards branch at this point; he simply doesn’t trust them enough to deal with the issue.
Someone needs to deal with this though, and it might require political leadership.
Does Chief Charles Bordeleau want his force known as one that tramples the rights of senior citizens protesting on public sidewalks?
Does Mayor Jim Watson support this kind of behaviour from the police service?
Currently the Ottawa Police Association is looking for more money from taxpayers. Should taxpayers give more money to a police service that violates citizen’s rights and then refuses to talk about it?
I’d say no.
It is up to the mayor, council and the chief to crack the whip on the cops for this inappropriate action. Cops may be bureaucrats with guns, but at the end of the day, they work for us and they must answer to us.