Ottawa police ‘aggressive’ response to high school dress code protest draws criticism

Ottawa police are under fire for their response to a student protest outside a Catholic high school over a dress code “bombing,” particularly in contrast to how they responded to blocking the “Freedom Convoy” earlier in the day. of this year.

Students staged a large protest outside Béatrice-Desloges Catholic High School in Orleans during lunch on Friday, a day after students say teachers removed several female students from class for alleged violations of the school dress code.

Protesters said Thursday’s “bombing” explicitly targeted women, who were ushered into the principal’s office to have their shorts and skirts measured by male and female staff members, and in front of them.

“They made us bend down and touch our toes to show that our underwear was not visible, and they touched our inner thighs to measure us, which is sexual assault, because we did not give our consent,” said Cloé Dumoulin. , a student at school.

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Dumoulin and another student, Cheyenne Lehouillier, said as many as 60 students were instructed to change their clothes or go home and come back in a different outfit. None of the students attacked were male, they said, who were also wearing shorts and tank tops because of the 30-degree weather.

The couple were among more than 100 students who staged a demonstration outside the school on Friday against the treatment of students by staff. Many wore shorts in protest.

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Police said in a statement that they responded to what they called a “riot” at the school around 11:30 a.m. to assist staff. They said one person was arrested “for causing a disturbance and trespassing” but was later released without charge, adding that person was not a student at the school.

However, videos posted on social media showed police laying hands on more than one person as they responded to a group of students protesting across the street in solidarity, according to Dumoulin and Lehouillier.

Those students were seen on the videos yelling loudly at police, including one person who was seen being led into a police car by officers where they were pushed against the side of the vehicle and then handcuffed and placed inside the car. patrol.

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“He didn’t even touch (the officer),” Dumoulin said. “(The officers) were being so aggressive, telling everyone that if they crossed the street they would get a ticket. He was way over the line.”

The French Catholic school board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, said it could not verify who called the police.

A spokesman confirmed that none of the students who had altercations with the police were from Béatrice-Desloges.

The police response quickly sparked an outcry from social media users, as well as concern from city elected officials.

Earl of the city Catherine Kitts, whose ward includes Béatrice-Desloges, questioned the police handling of the students and youth who attended the protest in light of how police responded to the convoy that blocked city streets for three weeks in January and February.

“After everything that our city has been through recently and seeing a pretty nonchalant approach to those protests, and after seeing this happen, I absolutely think there should have been more de-escalation,” he told Global News.

“I think as long as there was no threat to the safety of other students, it was not dealt with properly.”

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City councilors and residents warned police during the “Freedom Convoy” protests for not doing enough to quell the noise, including incessant honking that lasted all night and disturbed downtown residents. .

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Reports also surfaced from local residents shortly after the convoy’s arrival on January 28 describing encounters with participants that they said amounted to abuse, harassment, intimidation and hateful conduct.

It took police an additional week after the federal government invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Law until the blockade was finally lifted in late February.

When pressed by Global News on what their response to Friday’s student protest required, Ottawa police sent out the definition of “disturbance” as outlined in the Penal Code.

The Code defines a riot in part as “fighting, yelling, yelling, cursing, singing, or using obscene or insulting language,” a definition that Kitts said applies to both the convoy protests and the student demonstration.

“If they were there (Friday) just to control the crowd, then I don’t understand why any individual was laid hands on,” Kitts said.

Kitts said he has spoken with interim Chief Steve Bell and plans to raise the issue further with police and the school board.

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The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est said in a statement in French that it “takes allegations against teachers enforcing the dress code very seriously” and sent two officials to the school to meet with students and staff. .

The spokesperson said the board and the school “will continue to dialogue” about the dress code to “ensure a positive, healthy and safe learning environment is provided for all students.”

Dumoulin and Lehouillier said that while Education Superintendent Jason Dupuis has apologized to students for the way the bombing was carried out, school staff have yet to apologize.

The students say that until an apology is issued and significant changes to the dress code and its enforcement are announced, they and other schools are planning a walkout next Tuesday.

“We just want to know that our voices were heard and that they are going to do something about it,” Lehouillier said. “Because this wasn’t right.”

— with files from Amanda Connolly of Global News

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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