Ottawa

Group renews call to remove school resource officers

A social justice group made up of current and former Ottawa high school students is renewing its call to remove police officers from schools, saying their presence makes students of colour and those who are "gender-oppressed" feel scared and anxious.

Asilu Collective says police presence makes students of colour feel scared, anxious

Hailey Dash is one of the co-founders of Asilu Collective, a group created to end the school resource officer program in Ottawa. (Submitted by Hailey Dash)

A social justice group made up of current and former Ottawa high school students is renewing its call to remove police officers from schools, saying their presence makes students of colour and those who are "gender-oppressed" feel scared and anxious.

Asilu Collective released a report titled "Ottawa students speak out: Cops out of our schools" on Monday, a day before the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is set to debate whether to maintain the 20-year-old school resource officer (SRO) program. The OCDSB opened community consultations on the program in March, and specifically sought input from Black and Indigenous students.

Asilu's 32-page report includes 125 student testimonials on the harm it says the SRO program poses to those groups, as well as to students the group defines as "gender-oppressed." 

"Gender-oppressed [students] have reported to Asilu that SROs reinforce a culture of sexual violence, where victims and survivors are shamed and silenced. What we have found in our report is what racialized communities have been speaking about for decades," said Hailey Dash, co-founder of Asilu.

'Policing is violence'

Maya Basudde, who is also associated with the collective, said the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., should weigh heavily on the school board as it debates whether to get rid of the SRO program.

"It was a system of policing that took these children from their homes. The same stands for Black students, who on a daily basis digest news about violence against Black children as old as them. Through my research and own lived experience I know this does not end when they step inside school doors. Policing is violence, which is consistent with Asilu's report," she said.

Supt. Jamie Dunlop said in March that the SRO program helps Ottawa police understand the different issues facing each school.

"Every school is in a different environment, in a different geographic location, has different issues," he said. "Having an officer that's responsible just for that location is very important for a more timely response."

In an email Monday, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) said it's received no complaints from students, parents of school administrators about anxiety over police presence in schools. The OPS also urged students to report any sexual misconduct.

"We work with the school board to provide a safe environment for reporting such incidents and every report is taken seriously by our Service," the OPS wrote.

Students speak out

At a forum on the subject organized by Asilu on Monday, one student said students of colour are constantly alienated from their peers and live in fear and anxiety. She said SROs, in collaboration with school administrators, label students of colour as troublemakers.

Another student pointed out that some of the most racially diverse high schools in the city, like Gloucester and Ridgemont, face disproportionate impact as a result of the program.

"The testimonies support what we already knew and have been saying," Dash said.

Asilu Collective has been calling for greater investment in programs that support the mental health of students instead of programs that police them. "Care, not cops," summarized Basudde. 

According to its website, the collective exists "to remove SROs from all Ottawa public school boards to ensure Black, Indigenous, and racialized students are not harmed or over-policed by SROs and are not discouraged or set back from getting the education they need."

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