Ottawa made history during this year’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, as the Ottawa Police Service held a commemorative ceremony last Saturday that made it the first Canadian organization to officially recognize the international event.
But lingering tensions between activists and police were also on display, as two demonstrators were arrested for mischief after hanging a protest banner from a highway overpass.
Police personnel co-hosted the commemoration ceremony at the Elgin Street police headquarters, where a banner was unveiled in honour of victims of anti-transgender hate crimes.
The ceremony was the first part of the all-day event that included a march to Parliament Hill and a candlelight vigil at the Canadian Human Rights Monument.
Staff Sgt. John Medeiros says the event was part of a broader effort to establish a “mutual respect” between the transgender community and Ottawa police.
“We thought that this would be a significant and important event … to highlight and acknowledge the suffering that many members of the community have had to endure as a result of those who have been victimized.”
Medeiros says the ceremony was organized through the Flag and Banner program, which Ottawa Police Services launced in 2006 to raise awareness for marginalized communities in Ottawa. The program displays a banner for the community in a police building to commemorate historically significant events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Members of both the Ottawa and Gatineau police forces spoke at the ceremony, saying they were “committed to fighting hatred and prejudice.” A speech from a representative of the Ottawa Paramedics Service followed, urging the passage of Bill C-389 to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and in provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code.
Most of the 50 or so people in attendance applauded the speeches.
Sarah, who did not give a surname, says as a transgender woman she’s proud of the way the event has grown over the years. She says she went to a small event last year where “hardly any people showed up,” but this year, Ottawa’s event has attracted more attention.
The day of remembrance “is getting more recognition, and now we’re getting more and more recognition as a (legitimate) entity in the community.”
Yet not everyone approved of the Ottawa police hosting one of the remembrance events.
At the banner ceremony, a protester distributed flyers to the crowd of attendees that criticized police attitudes towards the transgender community in several past incidents – including alleged incidents occurring during the G20 protests last June.
“By having the Trans Day of Remembrance organized in co-operation with Ottawa Police, there is the impression that all queers and trans folks work in partnership with cops,” said the flyers. “This is a lie.”
Later in the day came the incident that led to two arrests, with protesters displaying a banner reading “Remember Stonewall?” – a reference to the 1969 New York police raids against the homosexual community – from an overpass.
Anticipating some animosity because of the police co-hosting the event, organizers planned the march to Parliament Hill at two starting locations: one at police headquarters, and one at Minto Park.
Medeiros says he understands why the community organized two starting locations and remains optimistic about the event.
“The bright side of things is we have a lot of people who are comfortable and who want to take part in the ceremony with the Ottawa Police Service,” he said.
“And it is a significant step in the direction of having the type of relationship that both in the community, including those who are uncomfortable, would like to have with the Ottawa Police Service.”