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Police Help Break Down Barriers of Homophobia
by Carroll Holland,
Community Worker,
June 24, 2000.
 

Community policing and police-community partnerships are the cornerstones of the crime prevention work of the nine-year-old Ottawa-Carleton Police Liaison Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities, a volunteer group.

The Committee has flourished under the leadership of successive police services boards and the Chief of Police.  As a result, the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service is now viewed as a leader -- across the country and throughout the world -- in forward-looking policing in relation to the LGBT communities, communities that have a history of negative and hostile relations with the police.

The following article gives you an idea of what we've done.  For a glimpse at where we're going, please join us at our special Pride Week event:  Building Diversity for the Future, Monday July 10, 2000, 6-8 p.m., R.M.O.C.  Activists Liz Hall and Matt Lundie, event coordinators, hope this will be a stepping stone to a new Diversity Subcommittee of the Liaison Committee.  As well, watch for additional information on gayottawanow.com.

Special thanks to outgoing Police Chief Brian Ford who was honoured June 22nd at a retirement party at the Congress Centre.  Thanks, too, to Judy Girard and other PTS members for the initial efforts that led to the police doors' first opening.

A community-based partnership with a powerful service provider, the police, is breaking down barriers of heterosexism and homophobia to begin the process of developing appropriate access for lesbians and gay men to the criminal justice system and related social services in Ottawa-Carleton.  Leadership, respect and commitment are crucial.

Previous Reports from the Police Liaison Committee
Round Table Applauds Expansion of Police Partner Assault Unit
Activist Educator Urges Everyone to Take a Stand Against School Homophobia
How Responsible is the Media About Deep-Rooted, Outing Concerns?
Ottawa-Carleton Police Liaison Committee for LGBT Communities
In the Advocacy and Activism section of "In the Pink 1999," the Ottawa-Carleton community directory, distributed by a free monthly newspaper for lesbians and gays, Capital Xtra!, there are eight entries.  One is for the Ottawa-Carleton Police Liaison Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities.   Another is for the Hate Crime Section of the Ottawa-Carleton Police.

These two entries in the non-mainstream publication are signs of significant change as former adversaries become respected partners in pro-active efforts to achieve equity for lesbians and/or gays in the Ottawa-Carleton criminal justice system.

The community-based partnership work is creative, cross-sectoral, multi-dimensional and highly visible.  It has taken the Chief of the Ottawa-Carleton Police to Parliament Hill (in l996) to present a brief in favour of enhanced sentencing for hate-motivated crimes against lesbians and gays, and paved the way for the head of the Bias Crime Unit (now the Hate Crime Section) to be on a panel at the first anti-homophobia workshops for Ottawa Board of Education high school principals (June l996).

It has brought an Ottawa-Carleton Police cruiser into the Pride Parade (since 1998) and brought the Rainbow Flag into the lobby of the main police station; it hung there throughout Pride Week in 1998 and 1999.

The unprecedented queer community / police crime prevention work dates back to 1989 when a man who was perceived to be gay was attacked by a number of young men, robbed and thrown to his death off a bridge linking Ottawa and Hull.  Alarmed by the murder and other anti-gay violence, the queer community organized a "Blow the Whistle" campaign and distributed a safety pamphlet.  The police, meanwhile, were passive and silent - they did not recognize the hate motivation behind the violence.

 
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Conflict over police inactivity led in l991 to the creation of the Liaison Committee.  Its crime prevention goal:  to make Ottawa-Carleton safe for individuals whose affectional orientation and gender identity is not that of the majority (the Transgender Community joined the Liaison Committee in 1995).  Monthly meetings, attended by senior police personnnel and strongly suppported by volunteers, revolve around incidents and issues that concern the l/g/b/t communities; this is where the police are held accountable.  The Liaison Committee is accountable through community group representation on the Committee, its policy of openness, extensive mailing of detailed minutes and project reports, and outreach events.

In a rare move, in 1993 the Ottawa Police Services Board funded an outreach project by two community-based workers (David Pepper and myself) to work on an Action Plan of the Liaison Committee to reduce barriers to police services.  They subsequently accepted the recommendations in the 366-page project report, Moving Toward a Distant Horizon, and assigned us space at the police station to implement the recommendations.

An "out" lesbian, I work part-time on the project, called the Community Access Project.  I also staff the Liaison Committee.  David, who is now Director of Community Development for the police service (among other duties), oversees the project.

The project has strong links with the Hate Crime Section, established in l993, in response to demands from marginalized communities that are the targets of hate-motivated violence.  (Example:  harassing a lesbian couple at their home by damaging property, smearing fecal matter on the tires of their car and dumping garbage on their lawn.)

Hate Crimes are Preventable

Hate crimes do not occur in a vacuum.  As a result, they are one of the easiest types of crime to prevent - through education and strong community standards concerning prejudice.  A hate-crime approach exposes the root cause (motivation) of an incident and challenges the community at large - including schools and the mainstream media - to work on solving the underlying problem (prejudice).

Our community-based process is grounded in action-oriented, problem-solving work that addressed needs identified by the community.  The police-supported work has the full backing of the Chief of Police who readily acknowledges the over-policing of the past and sets a clear community standard  - violence against lesbians, gays bisexuals and members of the transgender community is unacceptable.

Opening on a precarious, shoestring budget, the Community Access Project has made considerable inroads into recommendations in Moving Toward a Distant Horizon.

The work has three primary directions:  a police service focus (such as taking anonymous reports and doing outreach, including speaking to youth groups); the visible and closeted lesbian, gay and bisexual communities (including production of relevant materials and support for volunteers); and broad-based, problem-solving partnerships.  We strive throughout to make visible and validate the racial, religious, ethnic, disability and transgender diversity within the queer community.

Outcomes

Outcomes include an increase in reporting of hate-motivated incidents:  increasing visibility of lesbian and gay realities in police service policies, procedures and training; police participation in many community events and, above all, informed and sensitive responses to our communities by an increasing number of officers.  Overall, community/police partnership work is shifting the service delivery momentum from ignorance and avoidance to understanding and action.

We've also made some progress in the criminal justice system as a whole in the area of same-sex partner abuse.  Our work began with a March 1994 outreach meeting for lesbians that led David and myself to identify lesbian partner abuse as the emerging issue in 10 months of community development work.  The meeting revealed deep distrust of the police, incidents of inappropriate police response, and an almost complete lack of services and preventative measures.

Soon afterwards, coincidentally, a regional group - the Women's Action Centre Against Violence (Ottawa-Carleton) - invited the Liaison Committee to sit on a steering committee for a federally funded, community effort to co-ordinate the criminal justice system response to violence against women in Ottawa-Carleton.

We readily accepted and poured ourselves into the undertaking.  Focus Groups and a two-day workshop in l995 spawned the Round Table, a vehicle for key decision-makers in the criminal justice system and community representatives to implement workshop recommendations outlined in Putting the Pieces Together.

In a major breakthrough, Round Table members of key criminal justice system agencies - the Crown, Police, Probation and Parole and Regional Social Services -  set up a multi-sector Partner Assault Support Team (PAST) in 1997.  The team's mandate:  "to work toward ending partner abuse by providing coordinated services including effective criminal prosecutions, for victims of violence by same-or opposite-sex partners."

The inclusive "partner assault" title reflects the reality that primary relationships can include two men or two women, as well as a woman and a man.  Within three-and-a-half years we went from identifying same-sex partner abuse as a serious problem that was invisible from an organizational perspective to where the issue is an integral part of an unprecedented (in our area) system-wide, coordinated effort to provide an effective and accountable justice system response to partner assault.

Substantive, Not Piecemeal, Change

For us this is substantive, potentially whole-system change, not piecemeal change, providing there is sufficient commitment, coordination and funding.

Throughout, same-sex partner abuse is presented within the context of heterosexism and societal homophobia that are the root cause of hate-motivated crime and unsafe school environments for young lesbians and gays and bisexuals.  The systemic changes we are achieving apply to both lesbians and gays - as an example, the addition of lesbians and gays in 1998 to the new province-wide protocol of Probation and Parole.

Lesbian partner abuse was the issue that qualified us for involvement with the initial co-ordination project, but the successful outcomes benefit gay men as well.  Some needs may be particular to each group, but the overriding service need is universal - access that is appropriate because it has addressed and resolved, in partnership with communities, the central and common barriers of heterosexism and homophobia.  Ultimately, we hope, the work will also benefit the transgender community.

As with hate crimes, there is now an increase in service calls from victims of same-sex partner abuse.  The increase is significant and doubtless reflects that others are working on this issue as well.  However, under-reporting (estimated at 90 percent for hate-motivated crimes) is still very serious.

Within a period of a few months in 1997, for instance, the Liaison Committee received information about three lesbian students who had to change schools because of the level of harassment and violence.  The victims had to move.

Shortage of Services

In terms of same-sex partner abuse, one concern is the absence or shortage of appropriate services for victims and perpetrators of same-sex partner abuse.  Existing Ottawa-Carleton treatment programs for perpetrators, for instance, are for heterosexual males only.

At the request of the Round Table , the Liaison Committee set up the Same-Sex Partner Abuse (SSPA) Subcommittee in October 1997 to develop an action plan / funding proposal to develop treatment program services relevant for same-sex clients.  The SSPA Action Plan approved by the Round Table in March 1999 outlines necessary steps to achieve treatment programs plus urgently needed, comprehensive standards, policies and a range of services for victims and perpetrators of same-sex partner abuse.

We can not simply replicate existing services designed for heterosexuals; services must be specific to the needs of a highly marginalized and often deeply closeted segment of the population.  The community development process will rely on community input to such questions as:  Is the existing criminal justice system the appropriate place for victims and perpetrators of same-sex partner abuse, given the risks of being outed in the process?

What alternative approaches can be developed through community-based work?  What conflict resolution tools are needed to enhance the likelihood of constructive, collaborative outcomes?  Heterosexism perpetuates silence.  How can we work in partnership with all service providers to address this root cause  of fear?  (A key element for productive partnership work identified by lesbian focus groups is the need to sing from the same song sheet - the need for agreement on a mutually accepted, clear standard such as the Barrier Elimination Plan (BEP) that outlines steps agencies need to take to create welcoming environments.)

We are working at present on a project with Pink Triangle Services -- the queer community's volunteer-run service organization -- and Catholic Family Services to address the needs of gay victims of partner abuse.

Genuine Progress Essential

We've come a long way since the March 1994 workshop.  The effects are far-reaching when an institution as powerful as the police legitimizes and affirms a segment of society that is usually rendered invisible.  But we have a long way to go.  Fear, mistrust and cynicism predominate in minority communities.  To promote  trust and accountability, we aways need to be able to point to genuine progress, genuine change.

To understand the magnitude of the resistancce the work can trigger, context is vital.  While everyone has an affectional orientation, the affectional orientation of the majority - straight women and men - is seen as part of the whole person.  Many view lesbians and gays, however, solely through the lens of sex -- deviant sex.  Humanity, skills, spiritual qualities, the essence of us as individuals is irrationally ignored.

As a result, we have been criminalized, medicalized, villanized, ridiculed, isolated and dehumanized.  Systemic denial of our existence is widespread.

Invisibility of the words lesbian, gay and bizexual is not neutral - it's negative.  It stands for silencing, avoidance and ignorance.  It can also stand for deep, deep hostility.  In many areas, there is hostility to the mere mention or appearance of the words "lesbian," "gay" or "bisexual."

A key ingredient of the success of the police partnership is the up-front willingness of the police service to acknowledge its poor responses to the lesbian and gay communities in the past and to work openly, in partnership, on community-identified concerns.  The lack of defensiveness, the willingness to address problems literally amazes many community members, convinces them that police concern is genuine and brings them in increasing numbers to the Liaison Committee and its subcommittees.

In terms of power-sharing, the shared decision-making puts us in the highest collaborative form of partnership as defined by the authors of  "Partnership, Devolution and Power-Sharing:  Issues and Reflections for Management," in Optimum, the Journal of Public Sector Management (1).  The police, in many ways the ultimate symbol of power and control in our society, are pioneers in forging this authentic, respect-based partnership.

Backlash

In addition to predictable opposition, the bottom-up, instead of top-down, problem-solving, service delivery approach of the Ottawa-Carleton police also engenders backlash from those who have an hierarchical approach to and investment in power and the status quo.

With strong support from the Chief of Police and other senior officers we have progressed in spite of a range of obstacles, including:  a complaint by a police officer because he might have been in a photo I took of a Crime Prevention Week display that included the poster "Being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual is not a crime, Bashing is" (1994); complaints to a senior officer from a school board official who said I was aggressive (I had asked questions about process in the open session of an all-day, community workshop on youth and violence); and backlash by an agency to activists' discussion about training standards in an interview in a community newspaper.

But leadership does not automatically translate into enlightened, informed, sensitive service by all officers.  Pending comprehensive training, we refer calls from the l/g/b/t communities to personnel we have come to trust.

There is certainly an element of polarization within the police service, but the very fact that the Ottawa-Carleton Police Chorus and the Gay Men's Chorus gave a joint Pride concert in June 1998 speaks volumes.  (It was a huge success).

A concern is the failure of other jurisdictions to work on these issues.  Interviews with middle-management officers and civilians attending the Community Policing Management Program '98 near Orangeville revealed a serious lack of training, problem-solving strategies and community contacts to assess the victimization and risks facing lesbians and gays.  I was impressed by officers' readiness to acknowledge shortcomings in their police services and their desire to learn about pro-active steps they can initiate.  I was not impressed by the formal evaluation of the program which failed to relay my detailed written concerns about the invisibility of sexual minority and gender identity issues.

Built-in Evaluation Component

While we lack the money to do a formal evaluation of our work, there is a built-in evaluation component through our community-based process of accountability.  As well, there is the very tangible evidence of increased reporting of incidents; increased group and individual membership in the Liaison Committee; increased coverage and debate in the community newspaper (Capital Xtra!); community endorsements (locally, countrywide and internationally), and institutional endorsements, including from the policing community and Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (2).

I value highly events that happen only because work with the police opens closed doors.  An example:  the Sexual Minority Youth Workshop at the national Canada's Children - Canada's Future Conference, held in Ottawa in November 1996.

The most powerful evaluations come from members of the queer and transgender communities.  For instance, a lesbian who'd been bashed in a bar in a central Ontario city described, at a Liaison Committee meeting, how she was "very surprised to sit in a room with police officers and talk in a format everyone understood.  I felt heard for the first time.  It was wonderful (3)."

Conclusion

Regional Councillor Diane Holmes often attends Liaison Committee meetings.  Not long ago she asked me how the Committee was doing.  I explained that we were attracting new members, expanding our efforts.  It's slow, I said, but we're getting there.  "That's democracy," she smiled.  And it is.  It is all about democracy, every inclusion-demanding, choir-celebrating, minutes-laden step - and occasional leap - of the way.

Endnotes

1.  Rodal, "Partnership, Devolution and Power-Sharing:  Issues and Reflections for Management," in Optimum:  The Journal of Public Sector Management, vol. 24-3, p. 29.

2.  Falardeau-Ramsey, "Sexual Orientation and the Pursuit of Equality," unpublished manuscript, from Queering the Nation Conference, June, 1992, Toronto.

3.  Pepper, D., Holland, C.  "Moving Toward a Distant Horizon:  The Public Summary of the Final Report of the Action Plan Project Funded by the Ottawa Police Services Board" unpublished manuscript, June, 1994, Ottawa, p. 3.
 

References

Falardeau-Ramsey, "Sexual Orientation and the Pursuit of Equality," unpublished manuscript, from Queering the Nation Conference, June, 1992, Toronto.

Lesbian Focus Groups, Barrier Elimination Plan; Diversity:  The Lesbian Community; A working Document for Service Deliverers Seeking to Address Workplace Issues, Client Concerns, unpublished manuscript, Ottawa, 1994.

Pepper, D., Holland, C.  "Moving Toward a Distant Horizon:  The Public Summary of the Final Report of the Action Plan Project Funded by the Ottawa Police Services Board" unpublished manuscript, June, 1994, Ottawa, p. 3.

Roday, Alti and Nick Mulder, "Partnership, Devolution and Power-Sharing:  Issues and Reflections for Management," in Optimum:  The Journal of Public Sector Management, Winter, 1993, vol. 24-3.

The Women's Action Centre Against Violence (Ottawa-Carleton), "Putting the Pieces Together:  Results of a Two-Day Workshop to Improve the Response of the Criminal Justice System to Women Who Have Experienced Violence in Ottawa-Carleton," unpublished manuscript, Ottawa, March 1995.
 

Addendum

In 2000, some people interpret queer to include the transgender community.

Carroll Holland studied history at Queen's University in Kingston, worked for many years as a reporter and editor at the Ottawa Journal and is now a community development worker / activist in Ottawa-Carleton.