A recent string of attacks against members of the LGBTQ community in Centretown has raised concerns about safety in the neighbourhood.
Four attacks against men identifying as LGBTQ happened over a five-week period, with the latest occurring in the early morning hours of Feb. 27.
Three of the attacks occurred near Centretown Pub, a popular gay bar.
While the police and community members know of the attacks, none of the victims has reported the incidents to police so it can begin an investigation. Police and community groups are urging victims to come forward, but Insp. John McGetrick, of the Ottawa Police Service, says he understands the hesitancy.
“Crime is underreported as a general rule,” he explains. “When a victim is part of a vulnerable community . . . there’s a fear of being re-victimized.”
Ottawa’s LGBTQ community is no stranger to hate crimes.
One of the most infamous cases was the 1989 murder of Alain Brosseau.
A group of teenagers threw Brosseau over the Alexandria Bridge because they suspected he was gay.
Two years later, Ottawa police started the GLBT Liaison Committee. McGetrick is the committee’s police co-chair.
Centretown is home to the strip of Bank Street known as the village, an area considered LGBTQ friendly and inclusive.
For Ernie Gibbs, LGBTQ counsellor at the Centretown Community Health Centre, the area is the “anchor” of LGBTQ visibility and a space people should feel safe walking through.
“Things have improved over the years and people can be more out, show affection and access LGBTQ spaces,” he explains. “But it feels very different when it’s late at night.”
Gibbs says the location of the attacks is important. People are seen as more vulnerable if they are drinking, he explains, and an attacker might take advantage of that.
“These are bars that people go to, and they’ve been a long-time way to connect,” he says. “How do we make bars safer? How does increasing safety work at the end of the night?”
A Centretown resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he will be “keeping a wide eye” when out in the neighbourhood.
As a gay male, he says he faces harassment on a regular basis, including verbal harassment as he walks down the street.
“I feel semi-safe in this area, I work and live in this area,” he said in an email. “But you always have to be on the lookout.”
Following the attacks, the police have increased their presence in the neighbourhood. This resident said it helps, but it is not the only solution.
“We as a community need to be more aware,” he said. “I do feel safe enough to walk around alone with precautions. I’ll be aware of my surroundings as well as pre-plan my ‘escape’ routes and source of protection.”
Gibbs agrees that while the police services are helpful, safety should become more of a community concern.
“Everyone needs to be responsible for keeping everyone safe,” he says.
It’s not just gay people’s responsibility to look out for other gay people. Everyone needs to be creating a sense of safety.”