Charges against 12 arrested during Black, Indigenous lives demonstration stayed

Charges against 12 people arrested during a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous lives last month have been stayed.

Protesters arrested in early morning hours of Nov. 21, charged with mischief

During the two-day demonstration last month, protesters erected tents at the intersection of Laurier Avenue W. and Nicholas Street, near the University of Ottawa campus. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Charges against 12 people arrested during a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous lives last month have been stayed.

The two-day protest involved several advocacy groups including the Justice for Abdirahman coalition. Dozens of people blocked the intersection of Laurier Avenue W. and Nicholas Street, encircling the area with caution tape and erecting tents.

Police dispersed the demonstration around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 21, removing protesters and charging 12 with mischief to property. That caused an uproar among the protesters, as well as several city councillors — the protesters had been set to meet with members of the police services board later that day.

The Crown attorney's office stayed the charges against all 12 on Friday morning. Unlike when charges are withdrawn, staying them means the Crown's office could resume proceedings against any of the 12 within the next year if new information is brought to light, but that happens rarely.


Jace Wasskahiikin was one of the people arrested that morning, and was feeling both relieved and frustrated Friday.

"Hearing it being dropped only confirmed what I think most of us knew, which was that the arrest didn't even need to happen in the first place," Wasskahiikin said.

Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, also remained defiant.

"To be clear: we are not celebrating a stay of proceedings today for charges that should have never been laid and arrests that should never have been made," she wrote in a statement Friday.

Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, was one of the 12 people arrested on the morning of Nov. 21. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Lawyer Sarah Ahsan represents nine of the people charged, including Wasskahiikin. Ahsan expressed concerns both at the arrests and the onerous bail restrictions her clients faced, including being forbidden from communicating with each other or returning to the intersection where they were arrested.

"They were there for a good cause, and I think we as a society, we know that these are issues that are alive. They're real issues for us. The treatment of Indigenous people even today, the treatment of Black people today, it's something we can't deny is a problem," Ahsan said.

Police actions 'chilling'

Three other lawyers represented the remaining people arrested that day.

"This was an advocacy group that had been promised a meeting with the Ottawa police, who had been seemingly lulled into a sense of security, who felt as though they were going to have an opportunity to advocate directly with the Ottawa police and that opportunity was quickly quashed," said lawyer Brendan Coffey, who represents one the people arrested.

Coffey said the matter "frankly shouldn't have reached court in the first place," and credited the Crown for staying the charges.

"I really question that use of force and its potential chilling effects on other advocacy groups who might also choose to advocate and try and work cooperatively with the Ottawa police in reforming some of their policies and practices," he said.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) addressed the arrests Friday, saying it had concerns for the safety of the protesters and public at the time of the demonstration, but didn't want the matter pursued further.

"It became increasingly clear that there was no intention by the demonstrators to end the occupation of the intersection," Ottawa police wrote in a statement.

"The OPS advised the Crown that it was not in the public's interest for the twelve individuals to go through a full trial."

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