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Ottawa organization, Women of Colour Remake Wellness, seeks to challenge the white dominated nature of wellness spaces. Photo by Madison Lavern on Unsplash.
GABBY CALUGAY-CASUGA – OTTAWA • ON | 20-01-2021
Community, Health, Justice
Wellness spaces are not welcoming to Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), according to wellness group Women of Colour Remake Wellness and Resilience Educator Komal Minhas.
On Dec. 19, Minhas shared a multipart Instagram post outlining how wellness spaces are unwelcoming to BIPOC. She pointed out that wellness spaces in North America have been co-opted by white people who have created wellness practices for themselves.
“Let’s continue to demand more diversity and inclusivity in the wellness space. You deserve to feel well, you deserve to feel respected and you deserve to feel understood,” Minhas said in her Instagram post.
The ostracization in wellness spaces is what inspired the creation of the Ottawa organization Women of Colour Remake Wellness. Cassandra Pierre, who does contributor outreach for the group, said she joined the group because she did not feel respected in wellness spaces in Ottawa.
“Sometimes there will be cultural aspects that will clash,” Pierre said. “When I am sick, I feel like some people do not take it as seriously or say, ‘Oh, these people are known to exaggerate.’”
Pierre said that these spaces do not necessarily intend to ostracize BIPOC but that it is still what is happening.
“The wellness space needs to be rooted in intersectionality in order to support BIPOC individuals with our physical and mental health and take into account our lived experiences and the systems of oppression we face,” Minhas wrote in her post.
Pierre explained that seeing herself represented in wellness spaces makes a huge difference.
“You feel more comfortable,” Pierre explained. “You don’t like being the only person that looks like you in a certain space. You feel comfortable when you see, ‘Okay this person looks like me and therefore if something were to happen, people will not blame me or treat me as othered.’”
Pierre reminds BIPOC who are trying to find comfort in wellness spaces that, “you are not alone. We have all felt that at some point. Things are getting better and you can always reach out.”
Wellness spaces ostracize BIPOC community, Ottawa wellness advocates say
Co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition Vanessa Dorimain urges locals to acknowledge to presence of anti-Black racism in our own city. Photo by Kafia Barkat and courtesy of Vanessa Dorimain.
GABBY CALUGAY-CASUGA – OTTAWA • ON | 15-01-2021
The outrage across the globe in the wake of the storming of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. is undeniable. As eyes remain fixed on the United States, Ottawa activist Vanessa Dorimain reminds people of the issues at home.
“When we talk about anti-Black racism in Ottawa the message gets distorted,” Dorimain said. “We all know there is a racism problem, but we do not want to address it publicly and I think that is a bigger Canada conversation as well.”
As co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, Dorimain attended the November protest which was organized in collaboration with the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition. The demonstration ended with 12 demonstrators arrested.
Dorimain says this is an example of discrepancy in police response to white protestors compared to BIPOC protestors. During that same demonstration, Dorimain said a man approached the encampment with a weapon and was being extremely hostile, yet there was minimal police response.
“It was unbelievable how gentle they were with this person who came with bad intentions and was clearly hostile,” Dorimain said.
Her frustration grew after the demonstration was broken up. In addition to the excessive police force used at the protest, Dorimain said the reason for evacuating the area was a misrepresentation of the truth.
Ottawa police said the demonstration blocked emergency lanes but Dorimain asserted that the protestors ensured there was a clear emergency lane.
“We had communicated this to the police and city council official so that everyone was aware that there was a lane where emergency vehicles could get through,” Dorimain said. “They never used it.”
The police were contacted but were unavailable for comment.
Dorimain said that in order to battle systemic racism in Canada, people need to be ready to confront the topic.
“This is an issue that is going to take a lot more than a conversation. Before conversation there needs to be acknowledgment,” Dorimain said.
According to Dorimain, this acknowledgment could start with Mayor Jim Watson. Dorimain said that he still has yet to acknowledge what happened on Nicholas Street more than a month ago.
“When you disregard the fact that people are being violently pushed around, and being treated as if they don’t matter in your own city, what kind of message does that send to people living here?” Dorimain asked.
Ottawa activist not surprised by delayed police response on Capitol Hill
A group of Ottawa Street Medics team members deliver food in the city. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Street Medics Instagram page.
JHAMESHA MILORD ASHFORD – OTTAWA • ON | 13-01-2021
Shortly before the pandemic hit, 25-year-old Daniel Bailey founded Ottawa Street Medics, a local mutual aid collective.
Bailey is no stranger to activism — he’s been doing it for over a decade. When the pandemic hit, he got laid off from his construction job and, with the new found time on his hands, he decided to help those in need.
“I began organizing people, and kind of reaching out to people I knew in the community from my previous activism and stuff like that to, you know, get together and organize a solid mutual aid initiative to get people fed and ideally housed and you know fill in the gaps that are huge,” Bailey said.
One of the group’s purposes is to provide essentials to homeless people and first aid at protests.
“He went out and said ‘all right, I’m gonna go feed homeless people and more people hopped on board,'” said Ottawa Street Medics member Aidan, who asked CHUO not to publish his last name.
Aidan has been with the Ottawa Street Medics for four months. It has grown to a team of more than 25 people from the community — some cook while others go to every protest, every patrol and every ‘drop’ in the city.
The Street Medics are a pretty established concept around the world already. According to a Street Medics Guide from Paper Revolution, “street medics, or action medics, are volunteers with varying degrees of medical training who attend protests and demonstrations to provide medical care such as first aid. Unlike regular emergency medical technicians, who serve with more established institutions, street medics usually operate in a less formal manner and often in support of local volunteer collectives.”
Every week, throughout the week, volunteers gather supplies such as clothes and then on Saturdays, they prepare hot meals and hand everything out, Aidan explained. The group is mobile so they go to shelters like Shepherds of Good Hope located on King Edward Avenue and other places, like Salvation Army and Value Village stores, mostly in the downtown area. They’re also planning on expanding their services to Vanier.
Volunteers also take down requests from the community; if anybody needed boots or a jacket, a member from the medics team would write it down, look for specific items through their donations that they receive and work with other grassroots community groups in the city such as Hit The Streets Ottawa.
The group’s main goal is to make sure everyone on the streets are fed and have stuff they need to survive outside, especially in winter.
“A lot of people have been inspired to kind of make a difference in their own community instead of relying on the government for things,” said Aidan.
“We pride ourselves as an organization on using community to provide support right, so instead of working with government agencies, uh particularly cops, you’ll see a lot of outreach groups work with the police but, as we find, people trust us a lot more once we tell them we don’t work with outreach, we don’t work with social workers, we don’t work with cops,” said Aidan. “It’s really just people who come together and we all have the same kind of goal in mind which is just mutual aid and helping people out.” He added talking about the organization.
Aidan also mentioned that the collective has began doing community patrol, focusing on harm reduction by checking on those involved in the streets and see if they need anything. They hand out clean stems, pipes and needles to those who need it.
According to Aidan, the collective is much more effective than most government groups since there are no rules and they can better adapt to the needs of the community.
Although the group was founded at the beginning of the pandemic, volunteers have faced many challenges due to the national lockdown.
“When we prepare for drops, usually we would be able to host a few people, post up in a kitchen, you know, start making food, have the hot meals ready to go in two to three hours for whoever’s hosting, and it would maybe take five hours in total to just get all the food ready to go to the drop site and stuff like that. But right now, we can’t do that,” Aidan explained.
As of now, all tasks have to be delegated and they must prepare even more in order to drop off food and essentials at specific places during the pandemic.
Another concern is that volunteers could contract COVID-19. While working, team members are in shelter environments, in small spaces where there’s often not enough masks for everybody. Some volunteers have even had to get tested and self-isolate, but Aiden said there haven’t been any cases in their circle so far.
Currently, the team is running an art auction fundraiser. Working with artists across Canada, the event aims to raise funds for the collective, which will go towards food, clothing, harm reduction supplies, as well as providing physiotherapy to a member of the Ottawa Street Medics who was injured during the Day of Action for Anishinabeg and Black Lives demonstration that took place near the end of November. The member was at the protest to provide first aid.
While the collective’s main goal is to help homeless people and those on the street, they also want to avoid increasing the homeless population. Ottawa Street Medics, along with CAMS Ottawa (Coalition Against Surveilance), CPEP (Criminalization and Punishment Education Project) and Horizon Ottawa, recently tried to help a woman who was facing eviction while caring for her dying fiancé by protesting in front her home. According to Aidan, there are multiple fundraisers going on to help her pay the first and last month’s rent for a new home.
In order to make lasting change, Aidan said it begins with the City of Ottawa.
“It starts with city council, the people who make the decisions, about where the money goes. If we can start sending money to preventative measures, if we can start sending it to harm reduction, sending it to shelters, create more affordable housing instead of more condos, right,” he said.
This year, Ottawa Street Medics will be laying out their structure and values in order to be more effective as an organization. They want to get to know more people and plan on expanding to Vanier. The organization also plans on creating new partnerships with other small community organizations along with introducing new members to their medics team.
“Be the change you wanna see,” said Aidan.
A new Ottawa Street Medics support line has been implemented and will be run exclusively by Bailey. Those in need can contact 343-297-4430.
Ottawa Street Medics mobilize at the ground level to help community
Jhamesha Milord Ashford
Poster from CAMS Ottawa instagram page.
JHAMESHA MILORD ASHFORD – OTTAWA • ON | 13-01-2021
This month, the Ottawa Police Service is looking to the community for feedback on how the force can improve. The “Competency Framework Survey” aims to update the organization’s work performance and HR processes.
“In the last half of 2020, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) invested in a refresh of our organizational Competencies which were last updated in 2007 and are woven into each of our work performance and HR processes. Please take few minutes to give us your feedback and your valued perspective based on your expertise within your professional experiences,” OPS stated on the survey.
“At the conclusion of this project, we hope to see an organization-wide competency framework that is consistent, honors equity, diversity, and inclusion, and is relevant to the needs of the community and all OPS members,” OPS stated.
There are six questions. Some of the survey questions include “If you could see one thing dramatically change within OPS that would drive the desired behaviors, what would that be?” and “In your view, what is the greatest challenge the OPS is facing right now in supporting the desired performance?”
All answers remain anonymous — OPS is not collecting identifying personal information or IP addresses. The deadline to complete it is Jan. 15.
The Coalition Against More Surveillance Ottawa (CAMS) has been pushing everyone to fill out the survey in order to let OPS know what change the community needs. Farnaz Farhang, a member of the coalition, spoke to CHUO on the team’s behalf.
Back in 2019, CAMS formed when a group of community members, researchers, artists and others came together to protest invasive surveillance practices. Specifically, CAMS was originally made to respond to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s proposal to implement closed-circuit television (CCTVs) in the Byward Market.
“We know that, because of evidence, and just research that comes out of the places that have it, that it’s (CCTVs) not a tool for community safety and it doesn’t actually prevent harms from happening,” said Farhang.
The group is now fighting against any form of surveillance, whether it be by police or outreach groups that do work in the name of community care, while working to challenge and hold all forms of systemic oppression accountable.
With the help of this survey, Farhang and her colleagues are hoping that the force will be making radical changes.
“‘Defund the police’ but what does that mean for them? For us, it’s understanding that police, it’s not just about moving money from their budget to somewhere else, but reimagining what community safety really gonna look like,” said Farhang.
For CAMS, it’s about removing police structures and having measures in place where decisions are community led.
“The more people know about the systems and the people they are up against, I think it’s the best and easier way that we can kind of make them obsolete,” Farhang said.
The coalition is now focused on getting ready for the next OPS board meeting which is Jan. 25, and informing members of the community about the ins-and-outs of what OPS is doing in the city, along with other programs and non-profit organizations.
For those who want to speak as a delegate at the OPS board meeting, but may not be sure what to say, CAMS has created a guideline document for the meeting which is available on the CAMS Instagram page.
Ottawa Police Service survey asks for feedback, community group weighs in
Jhamesha Milord Ashford