Young Black men shaken after Ottawa police called on meeting

Chris Simba says officers with guns drawn surrounded his group on Sunday at the St. Laurent Shopping Centre.

People waiting to shoot a music video were handcuffed at gunpoint

Chris Simba says he still replays the Dec. 27 incident and worries over what could have happened. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

A young Black man in Ottawa says a recent encounter with police has left him traumatized.

Chris Simba, a 19-year-old music producer and manager, said he planned to shoot a video for one of his artists Sunday.

A group of seven young Black men were waiting for the videographer outside the St. Laurent Shopping Centre when Simba said they were surrounded out of nowhere by about a dozen police cars and officers with weapons drawn.

"Our lives flashed before our eyes," he said.

Simba said he tried to explain to police there must have been a misunderstanding, but an officer pointed his gun at him. He said he was then handcuffed and put in a police cruiser. 

"All of the boys that were in the car had to lay on the ground and had at least 10 guns pointed at them. So it's like one wrong move [was] life or death," he said.

"We're good kids. We're kids with futures. Some of us have scholarships, some of us have passions."

WATCH | How Chris Simba is feeling after the incident:

‘We’re kids with futures’: Black youth shaken after Ottawa police called to music video shoot

2 years ago
Duration 1:09
Chris Simba, whose production company was working on a music video outside St. Laurent Shopping Centre on Sunday, says he was shocked when several police cruisers arrived and officers arrested several members of the group.

Released without charges

The Ottawa Police Service confirmed they responded to 911 calls of people wearing masks and holding a gun.

Police said they seized a replica handgun. Simba said that replica was a prop for the video that was never taken out of the car.

Four people were arrested and released at the scene without charges, police said.

"I was glad that nobody ended up dead. It traumatizes the community for sure," said Robin Browne, co-lead of anti-racism group 613-819 Black Hub. 

"This one is particularly egregious with the police drawing their guns on these young boys. It's traumatizing when you get harassed by the police in any manner, but when they pull their guns, that's particularly traumatizing. It can have effects that last for years."

Anti-racism advocate Robin Browne says situations like this are dangerous and would like to see race-based data collected on incidents where officers draw a gun. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Simba said the moment has replayed often in his mind.

He hopes the Ottawa police review how they could de-escalate situations differently and hopes officers understand there is a real fear of police for many people. 

"There [are] so many ways that this situation could have been dealt with carefully — when you approach these scenes, understand that you're dealing with people," he said.

"I literally felt like we were like terrorists or something … It doesn't make you feel good about yourself, doesn't make you feel good about your skin."

Browne would like to see Ottawa police keep raced-based data about when guns are drawn and on the use of force.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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  • A previous version of the story said this group was going to shoot a music video outside the St. Laurent Shopping Centre. The group was meeting outside the mall to shoot the music video elsewhere.
    Dec 31, 2020 6:14 AM ET


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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