bookmark_borderNothing but dead ends: How the complaints process protects the Ottawa police

(this is a plain-text version of what is up on The Leveller’s site, go there for graphics!)

Police misconduct and violence are increasingly dominating news headlines. With calls to disarm, defund, and abolish police forces, we’re also seeing inspiring efforts to fundamentally transform how people respond to harm and keep each other safe. For now, however, if you’ve been mistreated by the police in Ottawa, your main recourse is to file a complaint through established complaints procedures. These complaints are one of the few ways we can gain information about the problematic behaviour of cops and how the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) responds to such behaviour.

We have examined the last decade’s OPS reports. In reviewing them, we looked specifically at:

  • the number of complaints received
  • how the number of complaints has changed over time
  • the nature of the complaints
  • how complaints are dealt with

Our examination leads to two possible conclusions: either people in Ottawa regularly file frivolous complaints or the Ottawa police have a serious problem, not only with the conduct of their officers but also in failing to hold officers accountable in any real way.

Hundreds of complaints are filed against the OPS annually, yet the number of complaints that result in discipline is vanishingly small. Even as public complaints have increased in the last few years, the number of cases resulting in discipline has not increased significantly. 

On top of this, the OPS employs various means and rhetorical tools to make this information difficult to access and understand, despite the requirement that complaint data be publicly available. In recent years, the OPS has also shifted towards informal mediation, which works to divert complaints away from possible discipline and further obscures the number of complaints filed.

How Does the Public Complaints Process Work?

All public complaints filed against any municipal, regional, or provincial police force in Ontario are overseen by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). The OPIRD was created via provincial legislation in 2007 and began work in 2009. It is a civilian agency with a mandate to ensure “public complaints about police are dealt with in a manner that is transparent, effective and fair to both the public and the police,” according to their About Us page

The complaint process begins with someone filling out a long form, detailing whether they have previously filed a complaint, whether the matter is already the subject of a Special Investigations Unit investigation, and whether the complaint is part of a criminal court proceeding. They then are asked to give details about which police service their complaint concerns, the officer(s) in question, what happened, and where. There is an extensive section for self-identifying by racial, ethnic, and religious group. All of this must be done within six months of whatever prompted the complaint.

The OIPRD has an extensive website, where they link to community groups they say can help with the complaints process and offer many explanatory documents about how to file a complaint. They offer to provide disability access, as well as options for regular and large print versions of a booklet with a tear-off complaint form.

Formal complaints have to be made in writing and cannot be anonymous. Everyone is asked whether they would “consider early resolution for this matter.” This isn’t explained. Complainants are not told that any complaints dealt with via early or local resolution are not considered official, and so may not be included in any significant way in the police force’s required annual complaint reporting.

The complaints process is by and large a tool in service of the Ottawa police, not a mechanism through which the public can hold them accountable

Once filed, the public complaint process is complicated, involving several oversight bodies and possible outcomes. A detailed breakdown of what happens after someone files a complaint can be found on their site. There are flow charts.

It is notable that the charted process for dealing with a complaint has ‘off ramps’ at every stage, where a complaint can be screened out or otherwise closed through disqualification, fiat, informal discipline, or resolution.

What happens after a complaint is filed?

All complaints, whether sent directly to the OIPRD or dropped off at a police station, are overseen, but not necessarily investigated, by the OIPRD. When the OIPRD receives a complaint, it takes the following initial steps

  • Screening the complaint: The OIPRD examines the complaint and determines whether it meets initial criteria in order to be investigated. Complaints can be screened out for several reasons, including the OIPRD deciding they are frivolous or in bad faith. (The full list of reasons a complaint can be screened out can be found on an OIPRD webpage.)
  • Forwarding the complaint: The OIPRD sends the complaint to the appropriate authority at the relevant police department, usually a professional standards department.
  • Deciding who will investigate the complaint: The OIPRD decides if the police service who is being complained about or a different police force should investigate the complaint. Usually, the OIPRD assigns investigation of a complaint to the police service that is the subject of the complaint.

After a complaint has received some investigation, it is classified as “less serious” or “serious.”

“Less Serious” Conduct Complaints

Less serious conduct complaints include things like neglect of duty, failure to report a matter, and improper dress or appearance. These sorts of complaints usually result in informal resolution.

Informal resolution includes penalties such as:

  • suspension of the officer with or without pay
  • an apology by the officer or officers
  • an explanation by a senior member of the police service or the OIPRD
  • time off
  • a requirement to undergo training

“Serious” Conduct Complaints

Serious complaints include things like discrimination, harassment, assault, or things that could result in a criminal charge. If the conduct complaint was determined to be both “serious” and substantiated, a disciplinary hearing is convened by the police chief with authority over the involved officers, to determine if discipline is required. The exact type and severity of any discipline is decided by the police chief and the police service based on the nature of the complaint. Possible disciplinary penalties include demotion or dismissal, suspension of pay, or suspension.

If there is evidence that an officer committed a crime, the case is referred back to the OIPRD for further investigation.


We find it concerning that an individual who has filed a complaint against a police officer has little recourse to appeal the OIPRD’s decision — even if that decision is blatantly erroneous or biased. While a complainant can request the OIPRD review an investigation conducted by a local police force (if filed within 30 days), if the OIPRD conducted the investigation, the only option is to file for a judicial review by the Ontario Superior Court, a very daunting and lengthy task.  

Examining the Numbers

According to OPS’ Annual Reports, people file hundreds of complaints against OPS officers every year. The last two years saw the biggest totals (442 in 2019 and 485 in 2020) since 2010. These complaints fall into two broad categories:

  • public complaints, which are initiated outside the OPS by members of the public, and 
  • chief’s complaints, which are brought by a police or civilian member of OPS against another member of OPS. 

In 2019, there were 230 public complaints and 212 chief’s complaints. In 2020, there were 285 public complaints and 200 chief’s complaints.

Prior to 2013, the PSS annual reports include only public complaints and they do not review chief’s complaints that resulted in some form of discipline. But looking at the reported numbers of all complaints since then, we can see some clear trends. 

Most significantly, the number of public complaints that result in some form of discipline is vanishingly small — the highest number in the last decade was twelve in 2012 — and has been declining since 2013. The last reported year that a public complaint led to formal discipline for an OPS officer was 2015, incredibly, and there have only been two reported instances of a public complaint leading to informal discipline in the last three years.

Chief’s complaints resulting in formal discipline have also been declining since 2013. The highest number was seven in 2013. The last three years, taken together, have seen only one instance of a chief’s complaint leading to formal discipline — once again a tiny number. 

However, the number of chief’s complaints resulting in informal discipline has grown significantly, especially in recent years. Prior to 2016, annual numbers for chief’s complaints leading to informal discipline were in the teens. Starting in 2017, however, there have been at least 46 chief’s complaints resulting in informal discipline each year.

What should we take from these numbers? First, public complaints against OPS officers consistently go nowhere. Of the 899 public complaints filed against OPS officers between 2017-2020, only two resulted in discipline of an officer. Second, there has been a marked tendency in the OPS over the last decade toward chief’s complaints resulting in informal discipline. In other words, the main way that OPS officers now face institutionally-mandated consequences for their misconduct is when other OPS members file complaints against them. And even in those circumstances, this overwhelmingly takes the form of informal discipline.


It is instructive to examine how the OPS Professional Standards Section of the Annual Reports are made available and written. These reports are technically public, yet difficult to find. They are not listed prominently on any City of Ottawa or OPS    website. (It is also not obvious that someone looking for information on complaints against the Ottawa police would need to look in the OPS annual reports in the first place!) 

So an ordinary, concerned person would at the outset meet some difficulty in reading these public reports to learn about OPS complaints. (We got access to the reports from 2010 onward through a combination of online digging – they are available from 2012 onwards at the bottom of this OPS webpage —  and requesting them through our city councillor’s office.)

Not only that,  the PSS section of the reports, which house the yearly review of complaints, disciplinary actions, and criminal charges levied against police officers, seem designed to obscure and confuse — not to provide real information about what’s happening with the OPS.

There are several strategies these reports use to simultaneously acknowledge and discount complaints. For starters, they give only categorical information on the complaints, without naming any particular details about what actually happened. 

This means that we can read how many “excessive force” complaints there were, but not if any were deemed as grounds for suspension or criminal investigation. We can see how many officers were investigated by the Special Investigations Unit and the general category of actions that would cause them to be so investigated, but not how many of those cases were for improper conduct. We can see how many mediations were attempted, but not what sorts of behaviours for which the complainants were seeking redress.

We know from many community organizations and individuals in our city that racism is a major factor when police hurt people. (We’ve traced a lot of this recent history in another article for The Leveller, “Not Our Friends: The Ottawa Police’s Long History of Violence and Racism.”) But these reports provide no data about race and racism. As a result, we cannot discern how police actions might disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and racialized people in Ottawa who make complaints.

This is particularly striking since the OIRPD is required under the 2017 Anti-Racism Act and under Ontario Regulation 267/18, as they say, to “collect race-based data on: 1) Indigenous identity, 2) race, 3) religion, and 4) ethnic origin.” Every person who makes a complaint is asked to provide this data. This information simply isn’t shared with the public.

Given that a number of complaints are marked as unresolved at each year’s end, there are plausible reasons for maintaining confidentiality for the duration of investigative work. But notably no “resolved” case ever has any explanation for what happened or who was involved. This makes it tremendously difficult for any member of the public to see if bad experiences we have with the OPS are similar to things other people have experienced, to know if particular officers are repeat offenders, or to know what disciplinary action they faced.

The reports rely on specific language and rhetorical moves that obscure the outcome of complaints. They also provide dubious justifications for why certain trends are occurring. First, the Office of the Independent Policy Review Director, which is supposed to investigate all complaints, in fact dismisses a large number of complaints as “frivolous, vexatious, over 6-month limit, or not in public interest.” 

Now, perhaps there are frivolous and vexatious complaints. But the OIPRD never explains how they decide that something is frivolous, not in the public interest, nor why it is reasonable to expect people to make complaints about OPS behaviour before a six-month cut-off.

Second, the yearly reports consistently frame complaints in statistical terms, giving the number of complaints in proportion to the number of police officers. Every year, the reports say there has been “one” or “less than one” complaint per officer. This frames things as though it is reasonable to have any complaints and also does not tell the reader how those complaints are distributed amongst OPS officers. Are there complaints against every or nearly every officer in the Ottawa Police Service? Or are there a few officers with hundreds of complaints against them? This makes a difference, yet we have no way of knowing the answer.

Diverting Complaints through “Informal Resolution”

In addition to constructing the annual reports is a way that obscures important information and deflects responsibility, the way in which the OPS treats complaints lodged against their members is significant. One clear trend over the last decade is the OPS’ increasing emphasis on and use of informal resolution mechanisms. 

These mechanisms range from informal conversations with individual police officers to more formal mediation processes. The OIPRD has particularly invested in mediation as a way to divert complainants into less-formal, less-tracked options. Practically, this means putting someone who has registered a complaint in a room for a conversation with the police officer they identify as having harmed them, along with a third party.

Starting in 2012, the OPS began using the same emphatically positive language to describe this in its Annual Reports: “Mediation allows the parties to share their perspectives of their interaction in a neutral setting and offers personal resolution to the complaint rather than the formal investigative process. Parties often feel better prepared to move forward with a positive attitude toward police as they feel they have been heard and have gained additional information and insight into police actions.”

OIPRD mediation programs have changed several times over the last decade, each time with great fanfare. In consultation with a research center at Carleton University, the OPS “enhanced” what was known as the “Voluntary Conflict Resolution Program” in 2010 to become the “Voluntary Alternative Dispute Program” (VADRP). In 2011, the OPS contracted the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation to run the VADRP. 

In 2013, the OPIRD launched two new mediation programs: “Mediation for Public Complaints Program” and “Customer Service Resolutions” (CSR). (Note that the CSR frames members of the public as “customers.”)

With a less clear mandate, the VADRP has continued but not grown significantly. The Mediation for Public Complaints Program “met difficulty in 2014” according to the 2015 report, though this goes unexplained. In 2017 and 2018, there was only one mediation attempt per year in this program, with the 2018 attempt reported as “unsuccessful”. Meanwhile, the CSR program has become the most-used of all the OPIRD mediation programs, diverting more than a dozen complaints each year.

While these approaches could be seen as beneficial in certain situations, for complaints raised by a member of the public against a police officer, there is a clear power dynamic that makes these forms of conflict resolution questionable. They also have the practical effect of reducing disciplinary procedures against police. In its 2015 report, for instance, OPS notes that “VADRP was also used to successfully mediate a public complaint which resulted in the disciplinary charges being withdrawn against three officers.”

Just as significant, these approaches erase complaints from the public record. As the 2018 report notes, “Successful mediations are documented as ‘resolved’ and are not included as a public complaint in the OIPRD and the OPS’s statistics.” That is, complaints that are resolved through mediation and informal resolution mechanisms are simply categorized as “withdrawn” or “resolved” and not otherwise included in OPS public reporting.

What does all this mean?

As we said at the outset, either people in Ottawa regularly file frivolous complaints or the Ottawa police have a serious problem. In analyzing the annual reports, our conclusion is clear: the complaints process is by and large a tool in service of the Ottawa police, not a mechanism through which the public can hold them accountable. 

The flawed complaints process is merely one illustration of why addressing problems with the police using their methods is a dead end. The OPS ’ complaint process tangles complainants in bureaucratic undergrowth without making real change because their purpose is not really to serve the public. 

The OPS have proven themselves unable, incapable, or unwilling to be held to account. Like the criminal “justice system” of which the police are a part, the complaints system cannot bring us real justice.

This is just one way to question the legitimacy of the OPS and whether they serve the public interest. We do not think that our main task should be to intensify the disciplinary proceedings aimed at bad cops. Calls for better policing usually only lead to further investments in policing. 

To be clear, we do not think our goal as a community should be to increase investments in better complaints, mediation, and disciplinary systems. As a transitional demand, we believe the public deserves answers to the questions we’ve raised here about why abusive cops are never actually disciplined.

Starting with clearer communication and transparency is one step on the way towards holding police to account for their actions. A further step would be effective discipline, not bureaucratic smoke and mirrors. Real change, however, will only come through defunding, disarming, and abolishing the police.

Glossary & Abbreviations

Chief’s Complaint – A complaint brought by a police or civilian member of OPS against a member of OPS.

CSR – Customer Service Resolutions

Informal Discipline – Action taking by management to correct employee behaviour or conduct. It includes things like verbal warnings, coaching, and training

OIPRD – Office of the Independent Police Review Director

OPSB – Ottawa Police Services Board

OPS – Ottawa Police Service

PSS – Professional Standards Section of the OPS

Public Complaint – A complaint brought by a member of the public against a member of OPS.

SIU – Special Investigations Unit (the civilian oversight body responsible for investigating serious or potentially criminal actions by Ontario police officers)

VADRP – Voluntary Alternative Dispute Resolution Program

bookmark_borderStopping Ford’s Covert Expansion of Policing

Punch Up has signed on to this statement, drafted by a range of groups and organizations, in opposition to Bill 251, the so-called “Combating Human Trafficking Act.” This Act will do little to actually prevent human trafficking, but will expand police powers, something that endangers all of us.

“We call on all Ontario provincial political parties and Members of Provincial Parliament to reject Bill 251. We call on Ontario to stop the expansion of policing, defund police services, and redirect resources towards marginalized communities. We further call on Ontario to adopt a human rights-based approach to human trafficking that centers labour rights, migrant rights, and sex workers’ rights and addresses the numerous structural barriers including poverty, precarious immigration status, and lack of access to affordable housing, health and social services that contribute to the risks of human trafficking.”

Read the full statement here.

bookmark_borderChoosing real safety: a historic declaration to divest from policing and prisons and build safer communities for all

Punch Up Collective is proud to sign on to the this statement, crafted by a range of prisoner justice, abolitionist and otherwise rad organizations. It calls for the defunding and dismantling of punitive state institutions, and the construction of, and investment in, alternatives that actually keep our communities safe. The statement reads, in part:

We can choose to build safe communities! We, the undersigned, are invested in building safe communities for all. We believe that as a society we are capable of preventing harm and violence differently than the failed punitive approaches governments fund today. And we believe that it’s possible to come together to STOP the expansion of policing and imprisonment, as well as move away from a reliance on policing, jails, prisons and immigration detention. We believe that we can invest, instead, in real safety for our communities by addressing the root causes of harm and violence in our society.

Read the full statement here.

bookmark_borderIn Solidarity with Kids and Their Caregivers

As the school year starts, we are thinking about kids and their caregivers. None of us currently parent any children, though we all have kids in our lives who we love and consider friends and comrades. In the Punch Up Collective, as a general practice, we aim to organize our work in such a way that kids and the adults who sustain them are included in our activities. We do this by budgeting money to hire someone who can host kid activities during events we put on, scheduling social gatherings during the day instead of at dinner time, making space in protests and marches that can be more kid-friendly, and generally trying to make sure that children are an ordinary part of our political lives. We believe that this approach makes our political spaces more sustainable, inter-generational, and joyful.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were glad to see some public recognition that parents and kids were bearing the brunt of changes and restrictions, and a general acknowledgement that parents were often not okay. All these months later, parents are still not okay, and yet there doesn’t seem to be that same recognition or a sense of urgency. Ruling institutions and popular narratives frame the pandemic-related challenges associated with kids (for instance, childcare and education) as if these are problems only for parents in individual households. In reality, these are collective, society-wide problems affecting the daily and nightly lives of millions of people. Indeed, the socially-produced response to the pandemic is creating a crisis of care for kids – a crisis that is interconnected with the political, economic, and ecological crises that we are currently experiencing.

Now, perhaps more than ever, is a time to act in solidarity with children. Why do we say this? For starters, kids are also people. Our political orientation to the pandemic should start with those who ruling institutions render most vulnerable and disposable. This includes elderly folks, folks with disabilities, people living in poverty, racialized people, drug users, migrants, and children. We affirm and fight for a world in which productivity is not the measure of someone’s worth, and kids are one important node in that web of resisting capitalist relations of value.

Kids are people who have been made structurally vulnerable by the ways in which we have organized society. They are profoundly affected by the decisions that adults make, and yet have very little power to affect those decisions. In the context of COVID closures and changes, the restrictions on their lives impact their capacities to practice their own agency and self-making; other people decide for them what they’ll do, when they’ll do it, and what access they’ll have to people outside their home or bubble. This is always true, and we’re not saying that solidarity with kids means letting them do whatever they want all the time. But we should take seriously how COVID disproportionately affects young people.

All kids are struggling right now, but their well-being is unevenly distributed. Kids of rich and middle-class people have relative space and capacity to find a path through this pandemic; kids in foster care or living in poverty have many fewer resources. Kids who are forced to live with abusive adults have fewer ways to find support outside the home. Kids with suppressed immune systems and disabled kids whose normal supports aren’t available have less-expansive lives than they deserve. Solidarity with kids thus means fighting for the well-being of all kids, with a particular focus on those who are targeted and deprived by current social arrangements.

Solidarity with kids also means paying attention to the people who nurture children, including parents and other caregivers, childcare workers, and education workers. As the pandemic has dramatically illuminated, caregiving is often seen as “women’s work” – overwhelmingly unpaid or underpaid, and undervalued in non-monetary ways as well. Fighting for the well-being of children, as a society-wide concern, necessarily involves fighting for the well-being of the adults around them.

So, what does solidarity like this look like in practice? We can start by listening to those who are most affected and most at risk: teachers, parents, children, early childhood educators, educational assistants, school custodians, bus drivers, etc. We can especially attend to the people who are collectively organizing around the issues that affect children and their caregivers – education worker unions as well as youth and parent groups fighting against police presence in schools, chronic underfunding of the education system, and neighbourhood gentrification. Parents and caregivers who are committed to public schools and those who are building campaigns for universally accessible childcare deserve our support.

The great thing about acting in solidarity is that we start from wherever we are, look to see what points of connection we have with others who are fighting for a better world, and connect in with their work. This means that we don’t have a list of what will count as good solidarity activities for anyone reading this to take up. But we can say that we’ll all be fighting against some shared enemies: anyone cutting public education infrastructure, anyone prioritizing hiring cops over teachers, and anyone forcing people to make impossible decisions between the health and safety of kids and their ability to pay rent.

As kids return to virtual and in-person classes, back to school doesn’t mean back to normal. This is an important moment for us to listen to children and their caregivers, elevate their voices, and fight alongside them for safe, equitable, and well-resourced infrastructure of care. As with everything, our collective well-being depends on what we’re prepared to struggle for, together.

bookmark_borderWho Decides How Much Money the Ottawa Police Get?

In recent weeks we’ve seen a serious uptick in discussions about defunding the police, which is wonderful! Defunding the police is an important step towards police abolition and creating forms of community safety that actually keep us safe. But if we’re serious about defunding the police as a goal, we need to know where to apply pressure to make it happen.

The decision-making process for how police budgets are established and approved differs between jurisdictions. Like us, you might have read the opinion piece by City Councillor Jeff Leiper which provides some helpful information about how police budgets are decided in Ottawa.* Leiper’s piece, and some of the comments by other progressive City Councillors, seem to suggest that because Council doesn’t control the Ottawa Police Services (it is not a City department), we should direct calls to defund the police toward other political work. Specifically, Leiper highlights the Community Safety Well Being Plan as something we should focus on.

Wanting to know more, we did some of our own research to map out how police funding in Ottawa works. We put together what we found into the infographic you can find below.

Some observations

A yearly operations budget is first established by the Ottawa Police Services (OPS). It is then voted on by the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and then presented to City Council for approval. The OPSB has seven members, three of whom are city councillors (currently Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Diane Deans, and Councillor Carol Anne Meehan), and four of whom are citizen representatives (one appointed by City Council and the remaining three appointed by the provincial government). You can find the full listing of board members here.

As Leiper points out in his article, while City Council ultimately approves or rejects the Ottawa Police Services budget, the Ontario Police Services Act stipulates that they cannot approve or reject individual items in the budget. In assessing the OPS budget, municipalities are required by the Ontario Police Services Act to provide the OPSB with “sufficient funding to, (a) provide adequate and effective policing in the municipality, and (b) pay the expenses of the board’s operation, other than the remuneration of board members.”

What constitutes “adequate and effective policing”? Good question! Who gets to decide what this looks like? Another great question! At the moment, it seems like the OPS gets to make those decisions and the OPSB and City Council fall in line.

If City Council rejects the OPS budget, the OPSB has a couple different options. The OPSB can direct OPS to present a revised budget, perhaps with guidance from City Council (formally or informally). If the OPSB decides that the municipality is unwilling to provide sufficient funding (as outlined above), they can request that the municipality jointly enter into a conciliation process, with the involvement of the Ontario Police Civilian Commission, or even request an arbitration process, whereby the OPS budget would be set by an arbitrator (either jointly decided upon by the municipality and the OPSB, or appointed by the Ontario Police Civilian Commission).

Just what is the Ontario Police Civilian Commission? It is an “independent quasi-judicial agency” that adjudicates appeals and applications under the Ontario Police Services Act. It currently has 12 members, appointed by the provincial government, all of whom are lawyers (or individuals holding law degrees). You can find the full list of appointees here.

What does all this mean?

We’re not experts, but here’s one important thing we notice in all this: despite the fact that there are various layers of decision-making to set the Ottawa Police Services budget, and despite the fact that city council has some limits on how it can make decisions about the budget, City Council still has the power to approve or reject the police budget. In other words, we, as residents, still have the power to force city council to prioritize funding other community supports and services that do a far better job improving our community than the cops.

* Many Ottawa residents have recently also received an email from Mayor Jim Watson outlining his opposition to calls to defund the OPS; it is clear that he is beginning to lay out how he will dismiss and undermine calls to defund the police. We offer this text and infographic to help clarify the technical and practical issues that would be involved in defunding OPS – the political issues are separate and deserve consideration too. 

A flowchart showing the process of determining the Ottawa Police budget.

bookmark_borderThings to Do Alongside People in the Streets

We don’t have to be in the streets together to act in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives! If you’re staying home while in-person protests are happening, here are a few things you can do:
  1. Send your elected officials some version of this letter to advocate for defunding and redistributing the Ottawa Police Services Budget.
  2. Put a Black Lives Matter sign in your home window, or make signs to post around your neighborhood.
  3. Post a picture of yourself holding a sign expressing your support on any social media you use.
  4. Contribute to the Covid-19 Prisoner Emergency Support Fund, which directly supports currently and recently incarcerated people in the midst of the pandemic
  5. Learn about the history of anti-Black racism and Black resistance in the Canadian context, from enslavement to the present. Read about the specific racist history of the Ottawa Police Services.
  6. Find resources for talking with kids and young people about racist violence and the Movement for Black Lives.

bookmark_borderMay Day 2020: Quarantine Capitalism

This is an audio version of this post

Our Invitation

Health crises are political. For May Day 2020, let’s come together against the forces of capitalism and colonialism, which are currently intensified as part of the COVID-19 pandemic. May Day is normally a time to gather and celebrate, and so this year we want to safely transform our public spaces into expressions of that collectivity! We’re happy to share these images commissioned by Punch Up and beautifully drawn by Bia Salles (@bia_makes_art). 

We invite you to show your solidarity by using and sharing these images of butterflies (ENG/FR), bees (ENG/FR), and birds (ENG/FR) that evoke the power of life against colonialism and capitalism! You can download the whole set of images in English or French. Color, draw, or trace them with kids! Create your own images that evoke the spirit of May Day! We encourage you to post them around your neighborhood, in your window, at your workplace, on social media, on patches. We’re excited to see what you do! Share digitally using #MayDay2020.

For more gorgeous shareable images, check out these graphics from Justseeds Artists Cooperative and this comic from Ad Astra Comix.

Building a New World In the Shell of the Old

The crisis that the pandemic escalated was already here. This May Day offers a chance for us to collectively meet this crisis by building a new world, recognizing that the one we’ve been living within creates misery and devastation. It consistently kills poor people, Indigenous peoples, racialized people, migrants, elders, kids, and disabled people first; it regularly places disproportionate care work on the shoulders of women and forces working-class folks to put their bodies on the line. COVID-19 is accelerating harms that were already pervasive. 

We will be living through this crisis for a long time, and so our organizing has to happen over the long-term with care and intention. People want to help one another; we are good at organizing and self-organizing. The state is neither interested in nor good at those things, nor are the very rich. This is a good time to remember that and to build on our collective strengths. 

This May Day, we encourage you to think about how your life is connected with workers, with Indigenous sovereignty and migrant justice, with people resisting imprisonment. When we evoke work, we mean not only wage work, but all the activities that sustain us and our communities. When we evoke open borders, we think not only of people imprisoned in immigration detention centres or killed at sea, but all the peoples who have had borders imposed on them by settler states. When we evoke freedom from prisons, we call for releasing prisoners and also resisting the slide toward a police state in the name of public health. 

These images evoke intertwined struggles and sites of liberation. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, there are victories. Wildcat strikes remind us that, as the old song goes, “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn” and that we need not wait on union bureaucracies to exercise worker power. Rent strikes show that the property-owning class is vulnerable to organized resistance, even when people are physically separated, and assert that everyone deserves a dignified place to live. Mutual aid and caremongering networks affirm that people want to care for each other and will self-organize to do so. 

Winning recognition of the dignity of work is only the beginning. Rent strikes and halting evictions are only the beginning. Establishing community networks of care and support are only the beginning. 

We know that there is no going back to the world that was; that world was never good for the vast majority of us. We can build a new world in the shell of this one.

bookmark_borderLinks and Resources Useful During COVID-19

Updates about what’s happening with COVID-19

Ottawa Public Health

Canada Public Health

Collections of mutual aid resources

A wonderful clearinghouse for Ottawa-specific support during the COVID-19 crisis

Mutual aid disaster relief

(Facebook group) CareMongering-Ott: Ottawa Community Response to COVID19

(Facebook group) COVID-19 Community Care Ottawa

(Facebook group) Keep Your Rent Ottawa

Big Door Brigade Mutual Aid Toolkit

COVID-19 Resources for Students

How to set up Neighborhood Pods

Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid

Crowd-sourced list of current mutual aid initiatives with links

Collective Care document and list of projects

A drive folder full of resources

Places offering help in Ottawa (to receive help or donate to), and updates from essential services or relating to government assistance:

High Jinx

Ottawa Food Bank

Operation Ramzieh

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Hydro Ottawa protections

Applying for EI or child care benefits

A second guide for applying for EI or benefits

COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad

The Centretown Community Association is establishing a Standby Volunteer List; to join, send an email to with your name, tel nbr, dates/hrs you’re available and whether you have access to a vehicle.

Parenting resources:

Flamingo rampant is offering 10:30 am story time every day through facebook live at their page there.


Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood Scavenger Hunt

40 Toddler Activities

Scholastic Learn at Home


Education companies offering free subscriptions

How to Talk with Kids About COVID-19

“Homeschooling bandaid”

Canada learning code lesson plans

“COVID Camp” – More lists of places to find activities and lesson plans

Mental health, harm reduction, collective living, etc

Online AA Meetings During COVID-19

Taking Care of Your Mental Health in the Face of Uncertainty

How to Cope With Anxiety About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Collective living and COVID-19

PDF from Higher Ground Harm Reduction on safer drug use

Guidelines from the Harm Reduction Coalition

Helping With Meal Preparation for immune-compromised people

Online assessment tool if you think you have symptoms or have been exposed

Art and entertainment during the time of COVID-19

Ottawa Public Library

Free streaming films from the National Film Board

Haymarket Books free ten-book download

The Social Distancing Festival

24/7 Mystery Science 3000 channel

Museums with virtual tours

25 sites with free public domain e-books

Helping from home

Donate unused computing capacity to help scientists model the corona virus

Tech resources list, including interesting things you can work on

How to make a neighborhood Slack channel

Exercise at home resources

How to Make Gains Without a Gym (by the folks at Stronger By Science)

Video Blogs for at-home exercise rehab if you get injured, from a local physiotherapist

Yoga with Adrienne channel

Down Dog app, normally a for-profit app, is offering free access to their programing

Resources and analysis

Tracking Incarceration under COVID – EN

Annotated list of lefty/rad analysis with a whole bunch of places to donate, mutual aid lists, and much more.

A collection of critical articles, twitter threads, and analysis

Facing COVID-19 With Community Instead of Fear

Data visualization of how viruses spread

bookmark_borderPOSTPONED: Early To Bed Dance Party: Dance Dance Solidarity!

Given current concerns about COVID-19, we are postponing the Early to Bed Dance Party Fundraiser. We want to do what we can to keep our community safe and healthy and slow the spread of the virus. We’ll announce a new date as soon as we’re able. In the meantime, let’s practice physical distancing and social solidarity!

Friday, March 27, 8 PM – 11 PM
Shanghai Restaurant, 651 Somerset Street West
Facebook event here

What is an Early to Bed Dance Party? It’s a super fun dance party, but earlier in the evening so we can still go to bed at a reasonable time! Come dance your face off and still be in bed by 11:15!

Shanghai will be serving beverages, DJ Justice will be spinning, and the dance floor will be shaking!

PWYC at the door. This is a fundraiser! Funds raised at the door will be split between three initiatives:

  1. Ottawa Abortion Doula Collective: “You deserve support throughout your abortion. We’re here to make sure you get it.” What’s not to love???
  2. Jail Accountability and Information Line (JAIL): The Jail Hotline tracks issues experienced by people incarcerated at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, advocating for their needs to be met in a dignified and respectful manner, while connecting them to community supports for when they are released.
  3. Indigenous Land Defenders Legal Defence: We don’t have a specific organizations lined up yet, but we will post details once confirmed. Many Indigenous folks have put their bodies on the line in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, and we’d like to contribute to their legal costs.

Accessibility: Shanghai is accessible by ramp at the side door. It does not have an accessible washroom. There will be loud music and lots of folks at the front of the venue. We will try to maintain a quieter space at the back where folks can chill out and chat. We ask folks to avoid wearing scented products for those with scent sensitivities.

If you have any accessibility concerns or other questions, please get in touch with Punch Up at

Friends, kids, dates, loves all welcome!

bookmark_borderHelp us expand the reach of the Radical Events Ottawa List!

Over the course of 2020, we’re hoping to expand both the number of subscribers and the number of groups submitting events. And we’re hoping you can help us make that happen.

The first edition was emailed to almost 70 subscribers on Monday June 18th, 2018. It has gone out every Monday since, and has grown to over 200 local subscribers.

Even more amazingly, just in 2019, the REO List featured events from 174 different organizations, all based in the Ottawa area.

There’s clearly a lot going on in Ottawa! With your help, the REO List can reach even more people and organizations.

There are two tangible things you or your organization can do to help keep the REO List growing:

1) Share the details about the REO List with your friends, family, and with your organization’s members and contact lists. A general overview of the REO List, including how to subscribe, can be found here.

2) Submit your organization’s events to the REO List for inclusion in an upcoming email. Events submitted by Friday at midnight will be included in the email released the following Monday. You can submit an event by filling out the online form.

How Does the REO List Work Again?

If you’d like to let other people know about the REO List and need a quick descriptive blurb, you’re welcome to use this one:

The Punch Up Collective runs the Radical Events Ottawa (REO) List, a weekly public email announcement list for radical events, meetings, protests, and other activities in Ottawa, Ontario, on unceded Algonquin territory. It’s a way for fellow radicals to share upcoming activities without relying on Facebook and other commercialized platforms.

Subscribers receive one email per week, each Monday, containing details on upcoming events and actions in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Subscriber emails are not shared with anyone and won’t appear publicly anywhere. The REO List is not a discussion forum; the only email subscribers receive will be the once-weekly events email from Punch Up, and individuals can unsubscribe anytime.

You can subscribe to the REO List here.

If you have any questions or have suggestions on other ways we can get the word out about the REO List, you can contact us at