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Denley: When Policing Becomes a Language Police

Beyond satire, the new “Comprehensive Language Guide” for the Ottawa Police Department seeks to prevent police officers from ever offending anyone, anywhere.

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These are tough times for the Ottawa Police Service, with a shortage of senior leadership in the service on embarrassing displays during emergency law investigations.

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With all the bad news, Rank and File could actually use something to defuse tension and generate some good laughs. We provide a published 16-page “Comprehensive Language Guide”. This is an internal document and not publicly available.

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This handy catalog of words and terms offensive to the ultra-sensitive ear is certainly educational. It provides dozens of examples of troublesome terms.

Too many details to cover here, but let’s start with the easy ones. No, sorry. That’s where the problem lies. Apparently the term ‘fruit within reach’ no longer just refers to fruits that are easy to reach or things that are easy to do. Instead, the guide advises, “This trope refers to black lynching and should not be used.”

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did you know who? Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Srolley used a grossly offensive phrase during testimony in the Emergency Act investigation.

And we will go again. “The word guru is a diversion from the Hindu and Buddhist religions,” advises our guide, and should not be used casually. The word mantra is the same.

Cultural appropriation is quite a problem in the opinion of those who put this guide together. This is an English problem because English freely incorporates words from other cultures. So powwows, lone wolves, spirit animals, and even tribes are out. Strangely enough, Chief is fine. The guide claims that tribes are an appropriation of indigenous cultures, which would surprise those who know that the term is used in cultures around the world.

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Let’s go back to race and skin color. Avoid the term “visible minority” because the word minority suggests that minority people are somehow inferior. Instead, use “under-representation or under-service,” which may apply to most Ottawa taxpayers.

“Brown bag lunch” is a word to avoid. In 20th century America, if you were darker than a brown paper bag, you could be denied entry to an event. I have to commend the guides for understanding how Brown Bag Ranch is a sly racist dog whistle.

Needless to say, calling a spade a spade, a term that has been in use in English for over 500 years and refers to a shovel rather than a person, is not used.

Next is gender and sexuality. No such guide is complete without tiptoeing through the 2SLGBTQQIA+ minefield. Ottawa police officers are advised to avoid words such as girl or man, wife or husband, or even her mother or father.Watch out for him or her. These terms are not all-inclusive.

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The delicacy of the document overwhelms what you see. Poor people are to be called individuals whose income may be in the low tax bracket. Using the term blind spot can offend visually impaired people. Even online accounts can be offended when called “disabled.” Use deactivate instead.

Caucasians are mentioned a bit in the guide, but don’t call them Caucasians.

Amazingly, this bible of politically correct speech advises against the popular acronym BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The guide admits that white is the color that ruins white for all “historically marginalized.”

The language guide very reasonably advises against using ‘gypped’ as it throws slurs at the Roma people formerly known as gypsies. Waste of money offers just such a great modern example, so why look back at Gypsies when talking about getting less than you paid for?

Randall Denley Ottawa political commentator and author. Please contact randalldenley1@gmail.com.

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Denley: When Policing Becomes a Language Police

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