Protest addressing police brutality, local mistreatment draws response from OPP, Sioux Lookout GSA
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
An act of protest during this year’s Pride flag raising ceremony in Sioux Lookout on June 1 voiced to those in attendance, and those watching the Sioux Lookout Public Library’s live stream of the event, that police brutality is at the root of Pride’s history, while also referencing mistreatment experienced locally.
The individual who made the remarks, who asked to remain unidentified citing personal safety concerns, displayed a sign throughout the event that read, “The first Pride was a riot against police brutality”, referencing the Stonewall riots that occurred in 1969, sparking New York’s Pride march.
According to stonewall.org.uk, “An uprising took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. As it was raided by the police in the early hours, three nights of unrest followed, with LGBT people, long frustrated by police brutality, finally fighting back. Lesbians and trans women of colour were some of the key people involved in the act of resistance, including Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.”
The person took to the open microphone towards the end of the ceremony where they acknowledged topics and issues including recent riots and protests in the United States, local police mistreatment experienced by people of colour, and the first Pride in Stonewall.
“I’d like to acknowledge that the United States is on fire right now. I’d like to acknowledge that the first Pride in Stonewall was a riot led by black trans women against police brutality. I’d like to acknowledge all of the homeless Anishinaabe and Oji-Cree people here in Sioux Lookout that get harassed by the police on a daily basis. I’d like to acknowledge all of our youth, all of our queer youth, that girl who was dropped on her head by a police officer less than a year ago. I’d like to acknowledge that Sioux Lookout is still not a happy place to be for many queer youth. The rates of mental health, of suicide attempts, of persecution, of religious brain washing continue on our people... Miigwetch to the library for not cutting the microphone. To Doug Lawrance, thank you for your support on behalf of Sioux Lookout. To all the concerned taxpayers who are looking to balance the budget at this time, I’d recommend looking at the 25 per cent going towards the police in our Municipal budget and considering movements to defund the police,” the person said during protest action.
The individual was contacted by The Sioux Lookout Bulletin, declining an invitation to provide further comment.
Following the ceremony, youth representatives from Sioux Lookout’s Community GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) issued a statement on June 2 in response to the protest, sharing their disagreement with the timing of the protest and coming to the defense of Sioux Lookout OPP officers who support the GSA during events and meetings.
“We were looking forward to the flag raising ceremony. It was a time of celebration and pride for the 2SLGBTQ+. As part of the speeches, we wanted to bring people together, to understand each other, to support each other, and to hear each other, which was actually put into the speech that was said on Monday. While we were glad that the protesters got to have a voice, we believe there is a time and place, and that was not it. The officers who were at Pride yesterday were there to support us as people. We believe that those “officers” who do horrible things to people of colour are not true police officers but monsters in disguise. The officers that come and support GSA at events and meetings have never and will never hurt anyone for their gain or intentionally try to injury someone. They are very understanding and compassionate people who are there supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community. We know that Prides used to be about protests but that is not how we choose to carry on that legacy. We were celebrating that pride isn’t a protest anymore and that we finally have equal rights. It’s not fair that we were left feeling conflicted and angry by the end of the video… There comes a time where you need to pick your battles, and as much as we stood with your arguments, and as much as we wanted to protest for the rights of people of colour, we expected them to celebrate us and stand with us. People of colour and 2SLGBTQ+ peoples have had to fight for the same rights. So we had hoped that you would have used that time celebrated with us rather than throwing a protest against our police allies… So thank you for sharing your speech with us, and thank you for being a voice for people of colour… This has been a message from the children of GSA, the voice of GSA. Stay safe and happy pride,” the statement read.
In a statement on June 3, the Sioux Lookout OPP shared, “The Sioux Lookout OPP is honoured to be asked to stand beside our community members in events such as the municipal PRIDE flag raising. We recognize the volatile history that has brought us to the present, and celebrate that we are able to stand strong in support of vulnerable populations. It is unfortunate that anti-police sentiment overtook a flag raising event that was meant to kick-off a month-long celebration of diversity, equality, and inclusion for all in our community. Due to COVID-19 protocols, this year’s flag raising was not the unified gathering of individual voices that it typically is. Instead, coordinators chose to follow COVID-19 protocols and limit attendance for the official flag raising, with the intention that individual’s voices would be heard in a virtual platform throughout the month. It was with great pride that the OPP accepted their invitation to participate in this event.”
“The community may not realize how involved the OPP is with vulnerable youth and the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Sioux Lookout. Not only is it our mandate to interact with our community with respect, compassion, and fairness as we serve our province by protecting all of its citizens, but many of our OPP members identify as 2SLGBTQ+ or have family members or close friends who do.
“Officers actively participate in mentoring vulnerable youth through the community youth GSA group, in uniform and on their own time. Thanks to the hard work of some dedicated individuals, Sioux Lookout’s GSA group has grown to include approximately 30 youths aged 11 to 17 who either identify on the 2SLGBTQ+ spectrum or are allies. The group is open to all individuals in the Sioux Lookout community. They meet weekly in a safe space where youth are able to participate in activities that promote self-awareness, knowledge-sharing, and community building, as well as teaching healthy life skills. The GSA group has given youth who are often soft-spoken and sidelined an open, welcoming space to voice their identity and work in cooperation with others, promoting diversity and equality, building self-esteem, and developing leadership skills.
“The GSA group welcomed officers in to their space during their weekly gatherings and invited the OPP to partner in hosting community events. Officers attend meetings whenever they can, making connections and building trusting relationships that support the youth. Meeting time is often used by the youth to organize the community events they host, including last year’s Community Colour Run, Pride Parade and Picnic, Outdoor Teen Movie Night, and Boo at the Bay Haunted Halloween Trail (in conjunction with the 270 Otter Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron). Officers also joined the youth in these events, offering personnel to assist to maintain public safety, as well as providing some financial support through funds from a Proceeds of Crime grant. At the end of the year, the GSA group was invited to participate in the OPP’s Santa Claus Parade float. These actions were not public displays to promote the OPP, but a true desire from our officers to support the endeavours of youth in our community.
“The OPP will continue to celebrate diversity, equality, and inclusion in our communities, and will be flying the PRIDE flag at all detachments for the month of June as a visible display of our ongoing support,” the statement informed.
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said he feels it’s important to ensure voices of protest are heard.
“As Mayor I have been privileged to be able to represent the Municipality at what has become an annual event to raise the Pride flag on the Municipal flag pole to help kick off Gay Pride Celebration Month. It is my belief that as Mayor I must endeavor to represent all community members wherever they are on the spectrum - the rainbow - of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age. I understand that as an older, white, straight male who is in a position of authority, many will not see me as a reflection of themselves. That is one of the reasons I believe it is so important that as Mayor, whenever I am invited, I step up to the podium and the flagpole to demonstrate in a public manner, with both words and actions, that we are an open and inclusive community. With the COVID-19 restrictions of this year and the inability to plan and carry out the normal parade and other physical gatherings associated with Gay Pride Month, perhaps the flag raising event took on a singular symbolic moment and became a focus for all voices including both celebratory and protest. It is important that voices of protest be heard, and I thought the organizers of the flag raising event were very gracious in letting that happen,” said Lawrance.
The Sioux Lookout Public Library’s (SLPL) livestream of the event is available on their YouTube channel SLPublicLibrary. The SLPL shared the video on their Facebook page (@SiouxLookout
PublicLibrary) on June 3 with the following disclaimer, “On June 1, 2020 the library live-streamed a Sioux Pride event (at the request of the organizers) held on the grounds between our building and the municipal office. The views and opinions expressed at this event by the speakers do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Sioux Lookout Public Library (board and staff members). That being said, we believe the event demonstrates the spirit of democracy; radically different opinions can be expressed on the same stage. Even though you might not agree with what these speakers are saying; when it's their turn to speak we owe it to them to listen. Please be respectful with your comments. The youth of our community are watching and listening.”