Ottawa police are once again being criticized for their treatment of the city’s Black and racialized residents.
The police department is under fire for an incident in which cops wrongly entered the home of a Black family in the middle of the night and, separately, a video in which officers appear to complain that “white man’s day is done.”
Ottawa resident Divin Kisenda, 21, says he was woken up by the sound of footsteps in his family’s living room at around 5:45 a.m. on March 24.
Upon opening his bedroom door, he saw a person standing in his doorway with their back turned to him. He says the person—a police officer—immediately turned around and shone a light in his face and started questioning him about a distressed man and the 911 caller.
“I noticed he was holding a...bigger black gun,” said Kisenda. “It looked like there was an attachment on the top of it that the light was coming from.”
“I told them I had no idea what [they’re] talking about. The only people that live here currently are my little siblings and my mom and my roommate,” he said. “Nobody here is going to pose any threat to themselves or anybody else in the house.”
While explaining to the officer that they had the wrong address, Kisenda said he noticed there were many other officers there as well, searching the rooms.
The home in question.
Despite asking them to leave, he said he was told that police needed to search the entire property to determine whether the 911 caller was there.
Ottawa Police did not respond to VICE World News’ repeated requests for an interview.
Kisenda says police did not leave until after they had woken up his 17-year-old brother and their roommate to question them.
After the officers left, Kisenda said he went to check on the rest of his family, when he found his 11-year-old brother, Armaan, shaking in the corner of his bedroom.
“He told me that [police] had come to his window first before they entered the house, and that they were asking him...questions about my name and my mom's name and who lives here,” said Kisenda.
Kisenda said he went to close Armaan’s window when another officer shone his flashlight through it and said he wanted to ask the child more questions.
“I told him, ‘There's nothing an 11-year-old can possibly help you with right now, you need to leave my property right now.’ So that officer left,” said Kisenda.
The next morning, Kisenda’s girlfriend tweeted about the incident, prompting Ottawa police to respond with a statement denying much of Kisenda’s story.
Police said they were called to an address on Montgomery Street the previous day about a man who was threatening self-harm.
According to the statement, the address police were given was a building under construction, so officers used cellular triangulation to find another address that was close to where the call was placed. They then entered that house to investigate.
“No firearms were pointed at any of the occupants at any time,” it reads. “No one was injured or detained and there was no damage to the residence. Upon discovering it was not the correct address, police explained the situation, apologized and left.”
Police say the man who was in distress has yet to be located.
Kisenda says a day after police issued a statement denying much of his story, police came to his home to apologize.
“But the apology they gave just sounded very scripted… I felt like it was an apology because of how much flak they're getting online.”
In the past year, police departments across Canada have faced increasing scrutiny for how they handle mental health wellness checks, particularly when Black or Indigenous people are involved. At least five people died at the hands of police during wellness checks in 2020 alone, prompting a response from the Canadian Mental Health Association last summer.
“Experiencing a mental health crisis is not a crime, and the response must be a health-care response, not a law-enforcement response,” the Canadian Mental Health Association said in a statement.
The issue has persisted for years in the U.S. as well, again disproportionately impacting Black people and people of colour, many of whom fear interactions with police. While there is no national database of police killings during wellness checks, examples of these incidents range from at least 2008 to 2020.
For Kisenda and his family, the encounter with police caused several sleepless nights and an investment in extra locks and curtains for their doors and windows.
“I’m just really shaken up [and have] the constant worry that this might happen again, that they might come back,” he said.
“Maybe they'll get another call there and mistake it for my house again, and I feel like I always have to be ready for that.”
Ottawa police are investigating after a video posted to TikTok showed uniformed cops, unaware they were being filmed by a home security device in someone’s garage, complaining about so-called threats to the white population.
"Our days are done. White man's day is done," one cop says, while others agree.
“The population of North America, we're the minority I think even at this point," another cop says. (Only 23 percent of Canada were considered visible minorities in the 2016 census. In the 2019 U.S. census, white Americans made up 75 percent of the population.)
A cop went on to say that every couple he sees in Toronto are of mixed race and he’s told his son “he can find a Chinese, Asian girlfriend” so he can “stay in the mix.”
Ottawa police said there is a professional standards investigation into the video.
“Regardless of the intent, the comments expressed in the video have negatively impacted community members and service members. The comments are offensive and they have further eroded public trust as well as internal morale," Ottawa Police said in an email to the CBC.
VICE World News reached out to the man who originally posted the video but he provided no comment.
Ottawa police have a long history of racist incidents and alleged police brutality. In February, a detective was temporarily demoted after making racist memes depicting officers of colour that said “we’re always hiring… anyone.” In October, Anthony Aust, 23, a Black man, jumped from his window and died during an aggressive police raid at his family’s house. That same month Const. Daniel Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man who died in 2016 after a violent encounter with police that was recorded. Montsion punched Abdi in the head while wearing reinforced gloves.