A petition is calling on elected officials to put an end to “weaponized” 911 calls against racialized residents of Ottawa after a white woman called the police on a Black man resting on Barrhaven trail earlier this month.
Ntwali Bashizi was resting by a bridge on the Stonebridge Trail after a bike ride in early July when a woman attempted to pass him and claimed the 21-year-old was blocking her path. She called 911 and had the operator speak to Bashizi over speakerphone, asking him to let her pass even as he remained at a distance.
The Ottawa police apologized to Bashizi for the incident, and acknowledged that the operator behaved inappropriately in the circumstance.
Based on the experiences of Bashizi and other Black, Indigenous and racialized people in Ottawa, a petition is now seeking to implement similar rules in the city.
The campaign, which had amassed more than 6,600 signatures as of Friday afternoon, calls for the woman who reported Bashizi earlier this month to be fined for her actions.
The Ottawa call followed numerous racist incidents of so-called “Karens” — women who raise their trivial concerns to higher authorities — calling the police on Black people in recent months.
The phenomenon even prompted San Francisco officials to propose new legislation called the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act — or the CAREN Act for short — to make it illegal to fabricate a 911 report based on someone’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender or sexual orientation.
In the Ottawa incident, a video taken by Bashizi and posted to Twitter by his brother, Joakim, shows the unidentified woman on the phone describing the situation to a 911 operator before turning the phone toward the man so he can hear the dispatcher on the other line.
“Sir, … do we really need to send a police officer just for you to let this girl by?” the operator asks.
“I’m not stopping her from coming by,” Bashizi said before being interrupted.
“You’re intimidating her, sir. OK, can you just stand to the side,” the operator says, as Bashizi replies that he’s already standing to the side. He remains at a distance for the length of the video.
Joakim Bashizi told Global News the incident reflects a common reality for Black people: having to justify even their most benign actions to others.
“You don’t have to justify your actions if you’re not doing anything illegal. That onus is always placed on Black people and I don’t understand why,” he said.
The Ottawa petition calls on the Ontario legislation to make filing false police reports or calling 911 over discriminatory concerns into a fineable offence — similar to the CAREN Act.
The campaign also asks for the City of Ottawa and the province of Ontario to commit to making the community safer for Black, Indigenous and racialized people and to implement anti-racism training for the local police and emergency response services.
The petition says that calling 911 for frivolous concerns is a drain on emergency resources, and says that it can put the lives of Black, Indigenous and racialized men and women at-risk.
Recent examples across Canada, such as the death of Chantel Moore in New Brunswick, and in the United States, including the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have shown that violent police responses often cost Black and Indigenous individuals their lives.
“It isn’t enough for the Ottawa police to simply apologize for mishandling this situation. We need action, not apologies. People who make false, racially-biased police reports need to be held accountable,” the petition reads.
A separate campaign has been set up to raise funds so Bashizi can hire a lawyer.