Tai Chi Call: Ottawa police explain response to woman with sword

Ottawa police interim chief Steve Bell has responded to social media posts and a request from a city councillor regarding an incident in Dundonald Park involving officers and a woman doing tai chi with a sword.

A post on Reddit Monday claimed someone called police on the elderly woman in the Centretown park. The post said that police became aggressive with the woman, who could not speak English, but also that officers were eventually able to get someone on the phone who could translate before the woman was apparently told to leave.

The post received more than 1,200 comments and it was widely shared on social media.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said they requested an explanation from police.

“What I am reading is exceptionally concerning and unwarranted,” they said on Twitter.

Umair Muhammad witnessed the incident. He told CTV News Ottawa’s Colton Praill that the woman is often at the park.

“I often come to this park in the morning with my son and there’s often an elderly Chinese lady who comes and does tai chi in the playground area and sometimes she has this ornamental sword that she uses as part of her practice,” he said.

Ornamental swords used for tai chi are sometimes retractable and are typically blunt.

Muhammad said the woman had put her sword away in a bag by the time the police arrived.

“They grabbed the bag and started telling her to sit down and follow their instructions or that she would be arrested if she didn’t do that. I approached the scene and started asking questions about why they were even there and why they were treating her that way and tried to tell them that look, she’s often here, she’s not making any trouble, she’s just doing her tai chi,” he said. “The police woman, she put her arm out and kept holding her at arms length, just saying, ‘Sit down, I’m at my limit, you’re going to be arrested.'”

He called the incident “absurd.”

“The police were over-zealous. Maybe this park has a reputation, there’s reasons for them to be on their guard when they’re here, but there’s also a reason to look at the situation in a sober way before going in over-zealously, ” Muhammad said. “I don’t know why the language barrier issue was something that caught the police off-guard, we’re a block or two away from Chinatown.”

POLICE RESPONSE

In a response late Monday night, Bell said police were called at around 9:50 am Monday. The caller was concerned about the woman’s sword, which Bell claimed was described as being “75 inches” (6-foot-3) in length. Bell said the caller hung up before more information could be gleaned.

“A patrol officer attended the Somerset St. West park at 9:59 am and located a woman inside the fenced area of ​​the children’s park. The officer was also directed to her by concerned parents,” Bell wrote.

“The officer attempted to speak with the woman but there was a language barrier and the discussion between the officer and woman became animated. The officer asked the woman to sit on a bench while they investigated.”

Bell wrote that police were eventually able to reach an officer who spoke Cantonese and Mandarin to translate over the phone. He said the sword was a collapsible device, which was indeed being used for tai chi.

“It (the sword) was returned to the woman. There was no arrest or charge and the elderly woman willingly left the park without incident. She was not directed to leave,” Bell claimed. “The officer chose not to ask for the woman’s identification to avoid escalating the situation further.”

Bell said the incident highlights that police officers are sometimes called to situations with limited information and misunderstandings happen. He also said social media can amplify those misunderstandings.

McKenney shared Bell’s memo on their Twitter feed. The Ottawa Police Service also published it in full in a 14-tweet thread.

The interim chief has asked for a full review.

“I have asked for the call to be reviewed from the initial 911 call to conclusion. It’s important that our community sees this information and considers the impacts of misunderstandings and barriers like language. It is something we can all learn from,” he said.

NO DANGER FROM TAI CHI SWORD, INSTRUCTOR SAYS

A tai chi instructor tells CTV News Ottawa ornamental swords used in tai chi are harmless.

“There’s many ancient weapons but they are of course not used as weapons. For swords we use ornamental ones. In my 23 years of practicing I have never seen anyone who ever thought of buying a sharpened sword for tai chi,” said Eduardo Molon, Chen Yingjun Tai Chi Ottawa instructor.

“We use them to foster special qualities in our movement. If a teacher wants to correct a student’s movement he might prescribe a sword,” Molon explained. “If you bang yourself with a sword your arm will break it – the collapsable one – if you poke yourself, it will retract. There’s no danger at all for anyone.”

Yukang Li, the executive director of the Chinatown BIA, said this was a “very sad incident.”

“The fact that this incident happened, someone called police to report on an old lady practicing tai chi in a park? This reflects the very sad truth of our society,” Li said. “This instance surely has a negative impact on community members who use the public spaces, such as Dundonald Park, especially, you know, people who are of a minority background; they would hesitate before coming to place this again.”

Li said it was likely a case of ignorance of the practice of tai chi that prompted the individual who called police to complain.

“Why are we living in a multicultural society like Canada is and still not familiar with another different culture? That’s the question I have.”

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