End the weaponization of 911 against BIPOC in Ottawa

End the weaponization of 911 against BIPOC in Ottawa

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The recent story of Ntwali Bashizi, a young, Black man studying law at Carleton University, being falsely reported to police while innocently out for a bike ride in Ottawa, is a recent example of how 9-1-1 is often weaponized against Black, Indigenous, and racialized people.

The incident involved a woman calling police when Ntwali refused to comply to her demand that he step off a trail bridge in Barrhaven, despite the fact that they were at a safe physical distance, and that she hadn’t asked any other passerby to do the same. She falsely claimed to police that he was intimidating her and demanded that they send an officer to remove him from the bridge. Once the woman had described his appearance to the Ottawa Police responder, they took her side in the dispute.

This incident is just the most recent example of racialized individuals being harassed and threatened by persons with privilege while doing everyday activities in Ottawa. In March, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustee Donna Blackburn harassed and made racially insensitive remarks to a Black teenager playing basketball in a park in Barrhaven. She reported the young man to by-law, threatened to follow him home, and insinuated that one day he would end up in prison.

Calling the police on innocent people from marginalized communities is a tool used to intimidate and exert privilege over Black, Indigenous and other racialized individuals and their communities as a whole. Filing a false police report against an innocent racialized person, not only violates their civil liberties, but it is humiliating, triggering, and in the recent case of George Floyd, it is life-threatening.

Calling 9-1-1 for any reason other than an emergency is a drain on a system designed to help people who are in a dire situation and are in real need of help. Using emergency services as a personal complaint hotline against Black, Indigenous and other racialized individuals is a waste of city resources, taxpayers’ money, and in the least, deplorable.

Ottawa Police Services have apologized to Ntwali Bashizi, admitting that the emergency service responder did not act appropriately in handling the call. It isn’t enough for the Ottawa Police to simply apologize for mishandling this situation. We need action, not apologies. People who make false, racially-biased police reports need to be held accountable. 

To end the misuse of emergency services as a weapon against Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities, we need:

  • The woman who falsely reported Ntwali Bashizi to the Ottawa Police to be fined;
  • A commitment by the City of Ottawa and the Ontario government to create safer environments for BIPOC folks;
  • Explicit acknowledgement in legislation that systemic discrimination exists in the Ontario community and empower provincial offence officers to fine individuals who make racially motivated 911 calls or who file false police reports on the basis of discrimination (such as the "CAREN Act" [Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies] recently adopted in the city of San Francisco);
  • Anti-bias training for police officers and emergency service staff to better assess and respond to racially-motivated 9-1-1 calls.

To ensure that Ottawa is a welcoming, safe and fair city for all its residents, we need to end racially motivated false police reports.

NTWALI BASHIZI'S LEGAL CASE:

If you would like to support Ntwali Bashizi's case, an independent organization, Justice For Ntwali has set up a fund where you can donate. Ensuring his legal case is successful will help set a powerful precedent and help ensure that these types of incidents do not continue. Any funds not used will go to a legal fund designated to assisting Black people in need of legal representation.