bookmark_borderA New World In Our Hearts May Day Picnic

Saturday May 4th, 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Location: Jack Purcell Community Centre – 320 Jack Purcell Lane (just off Elgin St.)

This event will go ahead RAIN or SHINE! We hope to hold this event outside but if the weather looks dicey, we have a lovely room inside Jack Purcell ready to go.

Join Punch Up Collective and your favourite radicals in Ottawa for an picnic to celebrating May Day and our collective struggles for a better world!

May Day is a really important holiday for us! It’s a chance for us to remember and lift up all those in the past and present working to make this world a more just, livable, and delightful place for everyone. We hope the May Day Picnic will be a chance for us to come together and share stories about all the wonderful, inspiring, and powerful organizing taking place in Ottawa and beyond. Plus, who doesn’t just love a picnic with pals!

Let’s get together to share stories, make new friends, and collectively imagine possibilities for worlds beyond capitalism, colonialism, and extractivism.

The picnic will feature collaborative banners to color and draw on, face-painting, and other activities. Plus, it’s a park, with playground equipment and plenty of space to run around. Feel free to bring your outdoor activity of choice!

Food and Drink

Punch Up plans to provide some fruit, snacks, and drinks to share with everyone. But feel free to go all in on the picnic theme and bring snacks for yourself, or to share.

IF you do plan to bring a food to share, we will have materials on hand so you can label your shareable goodies (i.e. vegan, contains nuts, gluten-free, etc). If a kid at the potluck isn’t under your care, please check with their adult(s) before you feed them any food!

Punch Up will bring a few spare plates and cutlery, but please bring your own dishes and utensils to use for eating if at all possible.

And of course, there’s no need to bring any food! You’re more than welcome to just come and eat. There’s almost always more than enough food to go around.

Kids, friends, lovers, and others all welcome.


If the weather is good, the event will take place in the outdoor park space behind Jack Purcell Community Centre. If the weather is dicey, we will be using a room inside the Centre. This room is on the first floor and is wheelchair accessible.

The first floor has gender-segregated wheelchair accessible washrooms. On the 2nd floor, there is a washroom that is wheelchair accessible and gender neutral. There is elevator access to the second floor.

We request all participants refrain from wearing scents to better allow people with chemical sensitivities to attend.

If you have any other accessibility needs not listed here, please get in touch with us at

COVID Precautions

While masking is not required, N95 masks and hand sanitizer will be provided. We encourage anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID or other respiratory illness to consider not attending. We will have two Hepa filters and a CR box if we are inside.

bookmark_borderMay Day as though kids matter

This year Punch Up Collective hosted our seventh contribution to recognizing May Day in Ottawa: a kid-centred picnic and short march. We wanted to share something about why this was so fun and to reflect a little on including kids and families in these kinds of celebrations, and the difference between including them and focusing events on kids and families.

We’ve done a mix of things to recognize May Day – sometimes events, sometimes workshops or other things that we hope contribute to carrying on the legacy of struggle for dignity and joy for everyone. Our first May Day event, in 2015, was a called “All In: Worker Organizing Beyond the Mainstream Labour Movement.” It was a panel featuring people talking about sex work, migrant labour, harm reduction workers, and drug users. As part of our planning for the event, we paid a local comrade who ran a daycare to bring toys and activities and set up a kids space. No one brought their kids. That same year we ran a workshop called “Planning to be Good to Each Other” about building social harm reduction practices in radical groups; again we set up childcare, again no kids were there.

In 2016, we organized a showing of the Lego movie at a community centre, with a video projector, legos, and popcorn. A bunch of families came (and we, none of whom at the time had kids, had a chance to marvel at how many of the under-ten crowd had the whole Lego movie memorized, and at the sheer volume of popcorn kids can consume!). The next year we stepped back from publicly-oriented May Day organizing after the Revolutionary Communist Party took over the planned events. Instead, we hosted a potluck at a private house with no formal childcare situation, and a bunch of kids came. This was fun partially because there were also a bunch of non-parent people who really liked hanging out with the kids and their caregivers. And so the year after that, 2019, we decided to have a more elaborate potluck, with activities and someone explicitly ready to hang out with kids, at a local community centre. Very few people came at all, and only a few kids. It was a bummer.

A normal collective might look at this litany and decide that there just isn’t the need in the local radical left to have formal kid care available at our events generally and May Day in particular. 2020’s May Day was the first one under the shadow of the pandemic, and we instead doubled down on trying to do something with kids in mind: we paid a local artist friend to make colouring pages under the label “Quarantine Capitalism,” and we shared them both here in Ottawa and online. People sent us wonderful pictures of people of all ages colouring these pages in and posting them up in public places. image: A kid sits at a table colouring in May Day sheets. There are a bunch of coloured pencils in containers on the table.

In 2021, exhausted by zoom events and not prepared to gather in person, we sent out a May Day greeting card by mail. Last year, still not willing to get people together in person but reflecting on what we were hearing from people wanting more space to understand how to work together, we offered an online version of our workshop about how and why to build effective collectives.

So, that brings us up to this year. The pandemic is still ongoing, the weather in Ottawa at the beginning of May is very unpredictable, and still we decided to have an in-person, kid-focused thing outdoors. We were inspired by the 1947 Candy Bar Protest, when kids went on strike to bring the price of candy bars back down to 5 cents; this started in B.C. but circulated across the Canadian context, including actions in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, and the Maritimes. We consulted with some of our parent friends about our idea to have a kids parade with noisemakers (parents responded, “Have you considered that kids are noisemakers?”), story reading, and a banner making. They all said, “Sounds good! Not sure if we’ll be able to make it!”

It was raining hard on our planned date, and we had to postpone to the following Saturday morning. If you aren’t a parent, you may not know that Saturday mornings are for whatever reason the main time where – if you’ve been lucky enough to register for gymnastics or swimming between 9 PM when the city portal opens and 9:02 PM when everything is full – kids have Activities. So we rolled up to our planned location with our banner, noisemaker-making supplies, snacks, red and black flag, and queer flag, but without a lot of hope that any kids would come. At seven minutes after the planned start time, one of us asked, “How long should we give it before we pack it in?” and we spent some time reflecting on whether it had all been a mistake. We tried to call the person who’d agreed to contribute Three adults and two kids use markers to draw on a banner that says "Everything for Everyone"music to tell him maybe not to come. Luckily, he was biking over with his guitar, and so he missed our call, and thus was there when, bit by bit, a whole bunch of adults and kids showed up. Some people knew one another, many others didn’t know anyone. The kids got right down to work making drums out of buckets, shakers out of paper plates taped together with beans and grains inside, and decorating other noisemakers. Others drifted over to draw flowers, hearts, and other more mysterious things on our “Everything for Everyone” banner. People had snacks, and listened to a reading of Candy Bar War, and then some May Day themed songs. And at a certain point we got together to sing and march around.

It was a really beautiful day. Most of the kids there were between one and six. Many of the adults were aging anarchists, and many of us hadn’t seen one another for many years, since even before the pandemic started. This was the first thing since 2020 that we’d hosted in person and it felt weird and good to be together. We had thought that we’d be contributing just one piece to a bigger set of May Day celebrations in our city, but in the end this small event was the only observance in Ottawa. This has made us reflect on how we direct our energy for future years.

Although we’d invited people who aren’t parents or caregivers, mostly the people who came were pretty directly connected to the kids there in one way or another. Even though we reached out to parents we know, we didn’t connect with organizers in town like the folks working with Child Care Now, who are campaigning for universal publicly-funded childcare, nor did we reach out to our anarchist librarian friends who host kid-centred events in public spaces in Ottawa to see if they had ideas for activities leading up to the parade that might have brought in people we didn’t already know. In general, we were not thinking sufficiently strategically about the context in which we wanted to participate.

Of course, it’s also nice to just have a social space to celebrate May Day with other radicals. But even if that’s the goal, hosting public events where there’s space for people who don’t already know one another to meet needs to be deliberate and thoughtful. We’ve tried to practice this by moving from a model where we have existing events and just add child care to them to hosting more events that are explicitly political and that are conceptualized as being for kids and families from the start. Looking at other organizing that maintains a steady commitment to always offering something meaningful for kids to do, we think that this is not only worth doing but also just much more fun than the bifurcated spaces we see so much on the left, where things are either only for kids or only for adults. But figuring out the balance on this is still a work in progress for us.

bookmark_borderRadical Events Ottawa List 2.0

We are very happy to announce the launch of a new version of the Radical Events Ottawa (REO) List!

You can view the new REO List at this link.

In addition to the weekly REO List email, which will go out every Monday, we have replaced the text-only weekly events blog post with a persistent online visual calendar. This calendar format allows you to view upcoming events in different formats, and makes it much easier for groups to add or edit their own events. In addition, each event has it’s own individual permalink, making your event easily shareable by email, on socials, on other platforms, or even on good old fashioned posters and flyers.

The Radical Events Ottawa List has grown a lot since we launched it five years ago. It now goes out to hundreds of local organizers and activists weekly via our email list, website, Twitter, and Facebook. We’re hopeful these changes will help the REO List become even more useful for organizations looking to spread the word about their actions, campaigns, and events.

You can find more information how to submit events and general information about the REO List at this link.

bookmark_borderRESCHEDULED: Make A Radical Noise: May Day Kids Parade

Please note the new date!

May Day is a day to celebrate the collective power of workers – paid and unpaid, formal and informal, care work and field work – all of the activities that sustain us and our community.

This May Day, join Punch Up Collective for a kid and family oriented May Day Parade!

Saturday, May 6th, 9:30-11:30AM
City Hall South Lawn (Lisgar Street)

We’ll have stations to make banners and noisemakers (or bring your own!), and we’ll tell stories about kids harnessing their collective power. Then we’ll rabble-rouse, chant and march our way around the City Hall grounds.

Kiddos of all ages are welcome! (And grown-ups of course too)

We’ll have masks available, as well as snacks.

If you have any accessibility needs, please let us know how we can support your active participation in this event! You can email us at

Find this event on Facebook here.

(Image: “Change Now” by Pete Railand, part of the Justseeds graphics collection)

bookmark_borderFacilitation and Consensus Decision-Making Workshop

Saturday, November 19, 2022
1:00pm – 3:00pm
Online – Zoom
Ottawa, on unceded Algonquin territory

Facilitated by the Punch Up Collective, this workshop is for anyone interested in learning the practical elements of meeting facilitation and consensus-based decision-making.

How we organize together is just as important as the issues we’re organizing around. Consensus-based decision-making and good facilitation can be useful tools for any organization looking to increase its ability to make effective decisions while more equitably sharing power and responsibility amongst members.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to facilitate a meeting, or how to improve your organization’s ability to make decisions collectively, we think you might find this workshop helpful!

Some topics the workshop will cover include:

  • why use consensus to make decisions?
  • how to plan and structure a meeting
  • key roles in meetings
  • tools for effective meeting facilitation
  • how to make decisions using consensus process

The workshop will last 2 hours (with one break) and be facilitated by the members of the Punch Up Collective. This workshop is directed at folks organizing (or interested in organizing) in Ottawa. If you’re not in Ottawa but are really keen on attending, give us a shout at

To register, please fill out this form:

The deadline to register is Saturday, November 12th.

There is no cost to participate in this event. Please see the registration form for accessibility information.

This is a shorter version of an in-person workshop we have previously facilitated. To make up for lost time, we’ll be asking participants to review a handout before the workshop (it will be emailed to participants in advance).

Punch Up is a small anarchist collective based in Ottawa, Ontario, on unceded Algonquin land. A more detailed description of the collective is available on our website:

The Punch Up Collective can be reached at

bookmark_borderGetting It Together: An online workshop for organizing collectives for the real world

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022
Online – Zoom
Ottawa, on unceded Algonquin territory

Facilitated by the Punch Up Collective, this workshop is for anyone interested in starting a collective, or those keen to discuss how to make a collective they’re already a part of more effective and sustainable.

We live in a frightening and unpredictable period, faced with the growing challenges of climate catastrophe, ongoing economic austerity and state violence, and emboldened white supremacy. Countering these challenges will take widespread, powerful, and resilient social movements that can sustain themselves over the long haul. But how do we get from here to there, when so many of our organizations and projects seem temporary, ad hoc, and dysfunctional? We think building vibrant, sustainable collectives in our communities is a good place to start!

Some topics the workshop will cover include:

-what is a collective
-why meaningful anti-oppression analysis and practice is essential for collectives
-tools and features of effective collectives
-time for discussion and reflection on the experiences of participants

The workshop will last 2 hours (with one break) and be facilitated by the members of the Punch Up Collective. This workshop is directed at folks organizing (or interested in organizing) in Ottawa. If you’re not in Ottawa but are really keen on attending, give us a shout at

To register, please fill out this form:  ttps://

The deadline to register is Saturday April 16th. There is no cost to participate in this event. Please see the registration form for accessibility information.

This is a shorter version of an in-person workshop we have previously facilitated. To make up for lost time, we’ll be asking participants to complete a couple short readings in advance of the workshop (they will be emailed to participants in advance).

bookmark_borderYes to Solidarity, No to the Convoy Occupation

We are heartened by all of the ways in which Ottawa residents are caring for one another and pushing back against the truck convoy occupation! To amplify these efforts, we have worked with a wonderful artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) to create this poster. Please share it widely! You can find a high-resolution printable version here.

A black-and-white poster, with the image of a group of people giving the thumbs down to a truck as they stand together blocking it. Two of them are holding hands. Text around the edge reads “Yes to solidarity, No to the convoy occupation, Yes to community care, No to white supremacy”

bookmark_borderOrganizing Against the Occupation of Ottawa

Points of crisis can usefully reveal contradictions and opportunities for organizing. Crisis can also shut us down and make it hard to connect, think, and act. The mobilization of the right-wing anti-mandate crew in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada is one such crisis. Direct confrontation with the far right is important and can be effective, but in the present moment in Ottawa it’s complicated to mobilize in that way. The most common responses to this complexity that we’ve seen are: 1) Calls to intensify policing and bring in the military; 2) Calls to get people out in the streets to fight the right immediately; 3) Calls for dialogue, understanding, and to wait out the demonstrations. This last one is a real minority, especially among the people most directly affected by the convoy’s behaviour and ideology.

We think none of these are adequate ways to approach what’s happening here. This moment is an opportunity for us to welcome large numbers of recently politicized people into a movement for transformation, build care for each other and autonomous organizing while fighting authoritarianism, and refuse to intensify the state’s carceral capacity,

In Ottawa, so far there have been substantial community-generated attempts to take care of one another; these are the seeds of collective mutual aid projects and we celebrate them. Every person who receives a loan of noise-cancelling headphones, whose pets have a quiet place to stay to escape the endless honking outside their house, or who has help to get groceries or to their job is someone whose survival and flourishing anyone on the left should care about. These kinds of mutual support efforts are awesome, and they show that always it is ordinary people, not the state, who can meaningfully care for one another. There has also been some collective counter-protesting and group walks around the areas affected by the right-wing demonstrators.

These approaches will likely not be enough to get the authoritarian occupiers out of the streets now or oppose fascist collective organizing in the future. And it is far better to prevent right-wing adventures in ruining our lives than to clean up the aftermath. But since we’re in the middle of having failed to prevent an occupation of our city, there are a few things that are helping us orient as anarchists committed to collective liberation. We don’t have any answers or correct lines here, so we’re sharing these thoughts in the hopes that they might help with thinking about both the present and the long haul. And we’re excited to work with other groups in building true freedom in Ottawa, for everyone.

Obvious starting point: Everyone is really tapped out and tired right now. These last years have been ridiculously hard, but the bad has been distributed to hit parents, racialized people, disabled people, people living in poverty, and imprisoned people hardest and worst. Covid has been a hard time to organize in, and so aside from us all being individually depleted we’re collectively functioning below strength. Simply enjoining people to get out and organize isn’t going to solve these facts about our real capacity.

The good news: we have never seen so many people in Ottawa overtly disgusted with authoritarianism under the sign of the Canadian flag, or so many people ready to condemn racist politics. This means that there are a lot of people very new to protests and organizing who want to get involved. Many of them are jumping in wholeheartedly. This is great! And also many of them have never done any collective organizing at all, and may not have a lot of political education, so they tend to revert to the forms they know, including setting up hierarchical and bureaucratic formations in the actions they’re supporting.

How we welcome new activists “in” to ongoing movements matter, and how we nourish people who’ve been around for a while matters too. We would do well to be generous and compassionate with everyone who is orienting against the convoy – that includes very new organizers whose impulse is to call the cops, liberals who are just beginning to wonder if calm argument is the right approach to fascists, and jaded former activists who are dipping a toe back into organizing spaces. We’ll all make mistakes, so this might be a space where we adopt the practice of calling in rather than calling out problems. Instead of feeling demoralized or cynical, let’s start with: It’s great that we have the chance to bring a lot of people into organizing against authoritarianism right now! How can we do that in a way that builds our collective power and demonstrates how fun and meaningful it is to be in this together?

As always, how we do things is how we do things. Those of us who’ve been organizing for a while know that mass mobilizations are always disruptive – the problem with the convoy is that the content of their disruption is racist, sexist, authoritarian, and hurts people. We on the left want to build disruptions that are welcoming and nourishing to everyone. And this is a long game – we should be treating one another as though we’ll be in movement and community together for a long, long time. No one is disposable. We want to build long-term movements that are rigorously kind to people and hard on problems.

And this is only one of the reasons that calling for intensified police or military intervention, or otherwise giving more power to the state is not the solution to authoritarianism. As many have pointed out, the Ottawa Police Services have accorded a stupefying level of courtesy to convoy participants, actively participating in creating a context where they are safe to party, build huts, take saunas, and honk their horns at torturous levels for days now. Their behavior is an expression of the ways policing is always in service of white supremacy. It is in part the individual white convoy members they are protecting, and it is also that the convoy is part of a broader eugenicist, overtly white supremacist tendency. The contrasting harshness with which OPS treats movements for Black and Indigenous liberation, or the ways they brutalize and murder racialized individuals in our city, comes out of both individual racism and racist policing structures. We cannot police our way out of authoritarianism because policing is inherently authoritarian.

All of us on the left in the Canadian context find ourselves in a “three-way fight” situation. This is when we oppose the far right (in this case, associated with the convoy) and also we oppose the people they oppose (the Canadian state). Although the convoy participants are our enemies, they are just one expression of the far deeper structural and systemic problems we all confront. We desperately need to fight the right in all of the places they’re mobilizing. And as we fight the convoys across the country, it’s worth asking ourselves how the fights we take on in these specific contexts can build that bigger movement.

This current confrontation with the anti-mandate crew is just the latest iteration in a long fight that we’re still in the middle of. We here in Ottawa, like others across the globe, have been fighting authoritarianism and fascism for a long time now. In Ontario this has included diminishing the power of the Heritage Front, fighting white supremacists on the lawn of Parliament, and taking on rural white power organizing. This convoy is the most significant upsurge of overt white supremacism in our country in a while, but we’ve confronted them before and we will again. We can take inspiration from a long history of directly confronting white supremacists, and act in solidarity with the fierceness of Indigenous, Black, and racialized people’s ongoing resistance. If we choose to accept the task, we can be part of an international struggle against authoritarianism, recognizing the ways this ideology traverses (and enforces) borders in its attempts to mold the world in its shape. And we can be part of an intergenerational struggle against authoritarianism, taking up the gift that our ancestors in the movement passed on to us – the dignity of fighting for collective liberation and joy.

If there isn’t currently a convoy in your town for you to fight, you might be following things happening in other places and having many opinions about how we could be doing it better. We know the feeling! To you, we offer the insight that we’ve been sitting with here: Despite doing what we could to build collective movements here in Ottawa, we were not prepared to mount a spirited anti-authoritarian collective response to the convoy arriving and putting down roots in our town. Wherever you are, and whatever tactics you think we should be adopting, the best way to demonstrate that they’re good approaches is to put them into practice: What can you build right now so that you’re ready for the arrival of the diesel-guzzling honkfest in your town?

For us, we’re looking forward to coming together with other like-minded groups to not only push back against the current occupation in a variety of ways, but to also prepare for future confrontations like this. We only call for things that we’re prepared to do ourselves; we’re downright excited to build a meaningful, long-term relationships here in Ottawa so that we can better contribute to the long fight against the right. We hope you are too.

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.